While environmental awareness has steadily inched its way into the mainstream, only so much can be fixed with the motto, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Greater challenges require more intricate solutions, which can only be designed by those who truly understand the subject. While the high school curriculum has limited space to focus on the environment, Stuyvesant’s Envirothon club helps to fill in the gaps, encouraging students to learn about delicate ecosystems and compete against other schools for the best solutions to current challenges.
Though Stuyvesant had participated in the Envirothon for years, its team dissolved in 2001. However, after ten years of inactivity, biology teacher Marissa Maggio decided to get the team started again in 2011, after coaching the High School for Environmental Studies’ Envirothon team left her wanting more.
“I just think that it is a wonderful competition,” Maggio said. “It’s one of the best experiences that gets city kids out into nature learning about trees, soils, and fishes.”
Because the newest incarnation of Stuyvesant’s team is so recently formed, its members are made up of underclassmen, mostly sophomores and Maggio’s former students or other curious individuals.
“I really wanted [to] explore something—something new. This is a new team formed
by last year, so I wanted to see if it really worked out,” sophomore Brian Wei said.
According to its website, the Envirothon, previously known as the Environmental Olympics, dates back to 1979 and was first sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts. Since then, the program has spread to other states, eventually becoming a national academic tournament. It is intended to be a hands-on competition that would help spark an interest in environmental issues and conservation among high-school students. To compete, teams must educate themselves in five subject areas: aquatic ecology, wildlife, forestry, soils, and a current environmental issue, which changes every year. Normally, a team consists of five people, each of whom specializes in one subject area. The whole team takes part in a presentation in which it attempts to solve an assigned environmental dispute.
The New York City Envirothon was sponsored by the New York City Soil and Water Conservation District. This year, it took place two days before Earth day on Friday, April 20, in High Rock Park, Staten Island with the topic of discussion being non-point source pollution.
To prepare, students on the Envirothon team met at least once a week as a club and made multiple field trips to parks so that they could immerse themselves in nature and have hands-on practice. “We had to do really long training sessions for soils. Soils is the hardest test. We have labs for soil to identify different soil types, chemicals, and composition,” sophomore Fauna Mahootian said.
Because the club did not form early enough to prepare for and compete in the 2011 competition, they instead spent the extra time preparing for the 2012 competition, which two teams representing Stuyvesant High entered along with approximately 15 other teams. At the competition, teams had to travel to different areas and answer 25 multiple-choice questions on each subject area, at least half of which were based on hands on tasks. In addition, they had to present solutions to an assigned environmental problem in oral presentations in front of a panel of judges.
Despite years of inactivity, the hard work and preparation of the team paid off, as Stuyvesant’s teams claimed first and second place in Manhattan and second and third place in New York City.
“They worked really hard and they did very well for their first time out,” Maggio said. As a result of their victory, Stuyvesant’s Envirothon teams will progress to the state-wide competition, for which the team is already preparing.
“States are going to be soon, [on May 23 and 24],” Wei said. “We’ll be camping in the Catskill Mountains soon as a preparation for states. Again, we’re going to bond with nature. We’re going to test waters for contamination. The competition has hands-on work so we should be able to know how to use the equipment and interpret the results.”
The winning teams at the New York State Envirothon will qualify to compete in the 2012 Cannon Envirothon in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, along with teams from other participating states and Canadian provinces.