They tried year after year for four years at county-level competitions. And as they watched other teams take top honors, they kept at it.
This year their hard work paid off, and those five students from Jupiter High School in Palm Beach County, Florida, made it to the state-level competition and won the Florida Envirothon this spring.
“We couldn’t pull this off without the volunteers who developed the tests and gave them,” said Jennifer Abbey, district conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Plant City, Fla.
The “Pine People” team walked away with the trophy, $400 and a chance to compete for regional honors this month in Junction City, Kansas. The money will help pay for their travel expenses to Kansas for the competition later this week.
The two-day event brought winning Envirothon teams from 21 Florida high schools to Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center in Jefferson County, Fla. to test their skills in outdoor sciences, including aquatics, soils, forestry, wildlife and current events.
Jupiter High School is an environmental magnet school, where students must apply to get in and start studying environmental science in ninth grade.
“They start young and have the tenacity to not give up even when they have been beaten over and over again,” said the team’s adviser, Phil Weinrich, who has been coaching students for Envirothon since 1993.
But even after all the hard work, when the Jupiter High School students won, they were thrilled. They jumped up and down. Then they talked in the car all the way back during the six-hour drive from Tallahassee to West Palm Beach about everything that happened, kids they had met and the competition they will face in Kansas.
“They are bright, enthusiastic, affectionate and loyal,” Weinrich said. “These kids have a strong sense of personal commitment,” he said.
More than 40 volunteers coordinated the contest, set up and tore down testing stations, graded 105 students and fed more than 170 people.“
Abbey became involved in Envirothon in 2005, when she began preparing teams for the competition. She brought soil samples so they could practice using the soil texturing field flow chart. She showed them how to use the USDA textural triangle and the Munsell soil color chart, and they identified trees using a dichotomous key.
Students learned about the USDA soil survey and identified animal tracks Abbey brought made out of flexible plastic and rubber. Abbey is now on the board of directors with Envirothon, helping organize the event in Florida.
“Those were the days that I became hooked. Envirothon teaches students in a hands-on way and emphasizes real world application,” she said. “Even if they don’t choose an environmental career path, they still take away an important understanding of the natural environment we live in and are a part of.”