The New Jersey Envirothon returned this year to In-Person competition for statewide high school environmentalists at the YMCA outdoor center in Wall Township, Freehold Township. Students spent the day learning and testing on various environmental subjects, including forestry, soils, aquatics and wildlife, culminating in team presentations.
Holly Reynolds, a co-coordinator of the event said as many as 14 schools participated this year. In the past, they’ve attracted as many as 30 schools to this highly sponsored event, but the momentum waned when the Pandemic forced schools to compete virtually for the past two years; a hard system to manage.
From their website, (https://www.njenvirothon.org) the NJ Envirothon has a very laudable past and mission. It states, “the first New Jersey Envirothon was held in Mercer County in 1994. It was hosted by the Mercer County Soil Conservation District, and organized through a partnership of New Jersey Soil Districts, plus state and federal natural resource agencies.”
“Inspiration came from our neighbors in Pennsylvania, where high school students had been gathering since 1979 to challenge their environmental knowledge and to explore potential natural resource careers. The early competitions were called the “Environmental Olympics”, later the “Enviro-Olympics”, and then the “Envirothon”. Neighboring states began to offer their own competitions, and the first “National Envirothon” was held in 1988. With the entrance of the first Canadian team in 1992, it became a North American event. Four teams competed in the first New Jersey Envirothon in 1994. The winning team earns the honor of representing New Jersey at the North American Envirothon, where they will compete against other top teams from approximately 55 US states and Canadian provinces.”
“Students who participate in the Envirothon are poised to become better-informed, active participants in natural resource management and problem-solving. Those who are considering careers in natural resources conservation have the added benefit of interacting with conservation professionals at training sessions and the event itself.”
The plan has been that “All students will receive certificates of participation and NJ Envirothon T-shirts. The NJ Association of Conservation Districts will award $1,000 Scholarships to the members of the first-place team. Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Kean University will offer scholarships to first place team members who attend either of these institutions. The top-placing teams will receive a plaque in honor of their achievements. The first-place team may represent New Jersey at the North American Envirothon. Travel expense assistance may be available from the NJ Association of Conservation Districts.”
Reynolds, a public education specialist for the Freehold Soil Conservation District and Envirothon alum herself, added that the teams “Study real hard, and it was nice to see winners at each school with everyone having a piece. We’re rebuilding after COVID. “
Before, the schools were treated to an Envirothon weekend extravaganza of camping, competition and comradery, making the event highly anticipated.
The theme this year was climate change and how to combat its effects within the City of Newark, an environ that is as much as seven degrees hotter than the rest of the country and about 40% of the residents are low income and suffer many resulting medical challenges.
Having had about 5 days to study the problem, devise possible solutions, the teams had to make a 10-minute, low-tech presentation that was judged by volunteers on many factors including how well they worked together and how effectively thay used the simple supplies provided like markers and flip pads of white paper.
One intriguing idea was to flood two major streets, much like Venice, Italy, to be able to reflect back the sunlight. Aside from the shock value of this idea, the team did have very cogent descriptions of where, how and why this could work.
Most teams incorporated installing more solar panels and green roofs atop most of the buildings. Follow up questions by the judges did prod them to explain how they would garner support and financing for their projects to ensure success and ensure longevity.