Repeat Champions

RANDOLPH – For the second consecutive year, students from Randolph Central School came out victorious as the top team in the Cattaraugus County Envirothon competition held April 23 at Allegany State Park.

Randolph’s five-member Team 1 will advance to SUNY Morrisville for the “playoffs” and a chance to win scholarships and awards. They will compete against teams from high schools all over the state in the 2014 New York State Envirothon May 21-22. The team includes Andrew Hvizdzak, Megan Steward, Jeff Andrews, Taryn Dechow and Wes Sluga.

The Cattaraugus County Envirothon was an all-day event that took place at Allegany State Park’s Camp Allegany, which has all the requirements and elements needed for the Envirothon.

Pat Walker, Envirothon team adviser and agriculture teacher at RCS, said Randolph had two teams competing in the county’s Envirothon this year. She complimented the students saying both teams are great teams and have done really well.

Walker noted that Randolph’s Team 1 also won the competition in last year’s county Envirothon. The team placed fourth overall at the 2013 state competition in Morrisville and missed third place by just one-third of a point. She said it was exciting with 47 schools competing from all over the state.

“This was our ninth win since Cattaraugus County started the ‘Envirothon’ 20-some years ago,” she said. “In the years since I have been teaching at Randolph (fall of 1998), RCS has been to states in 2001, 2002, 2007, 2013 and now 2014.”

During the event, teams are evaluated on their knowledge and performance at five different stations in the following categories: Aquatic Ecology, Forestry, Soils and Land Use, Wildlife, and a Current Issue topic that includes a written test and oral presentation. Each year, a different environmental issue is selected and this year’s current issue is “Sustainable Local Agriculture/Locally Grown.”

Participants use problem-solving techniques, teamwork skills, critical thinking, and hands-on learning as they are tested and rotate through the stations. The teams may be required to complete tasks including identifying various species of trees, wildlife and fish available on display and answer specific questions about habitat and other environmental issues related to the species. They may also be asked to test a water sample for pH or use a soil survey report to evaluate the soils at a given site.

As part of the score at the Current Issue station, the team works together to come up with a solution for a complex environmental issue in an oral presentation in front of judges. Each team has to make a 7-10-minute presentation based on basic information and then researches further to come up with a solution. All team members must participate in this presentation which comprises a major portion of the team’s score. Scores for the five exams are then totaled and the team with the highest cumulative score wins the competition.

Walker said the teams were given a scenario of an old campground that they had to make into a sustainable agricultural enterprise. They were given a set amount of money to get started and, then after that, they had to show how they were going to make enough money so the business could continue on.

“The teams had to come up with what they were going to do with this property and how they were going to spend the money on it,” she said. “They had to figure out how they would deal with the economic, environmental and social issues to make it a sustainable enterprise.”

To prepare for the competition, the participating students studied the resource materials listed on the state Envirothon website, nysenvirothon.net, where there are various resource materials and links to other helpful websites. Also, experts in forestry, wildlife, soils and in the current topic area worked with the students.

According to Walker, additional preparation came from Brian Davis, district field manager for the Cattaraugus County Soil & Water Conservation District, who had a review session with the students. People who were going to be posted at the five stations during the Envirothon, presented a PowerPoint show and advised the participants on what they needed to know, as well as some websites where they did additional research.

She said it’s up to the students to do the research and look over the information. She provides as much information as she can to the students and advises them on what they should know, so they are well prepared when it comes time for the Envirothon.

Walker said the students definitely come away from this event as better problem solvers and researchers. For this contest, they have to go beyond and look for more information – especially with the current issue. She pointed out that they have to work together and use all the information to come up with a workable solution.

“I think it’s a wonderful experience for the students,” she said. “Their success comes from their desire to do these things. This isn’t my achievement, it’s theirs.”

According to “New York State Conservationist” magazine, the program began in Pennsylvania in 1979 and quickly spread throughout the U.S., with New York holding its first Envirothon in 1990. The state Envirothon champions become New York state’s representatives at the North American/Canon Envirothon, the largest high school environmental education competition in North America.

For more information about the program, call Davis at 699-2326, ext. 110, or visit the NYS Envirothon website at nysenvirothon.net or the North American Envirothon website at envirothon.org.