Teachers Get Their Feet Wet at Envirothon Workshop

(HARRISBURG, PA)—Fourteen Envirothon teachers from Pennsylvania and Virginia went paddling, turned over rocks, and studied forestry and soils during a two-day workshop this week, co-sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Lancaster County Conservation District (LCCD).

Envirothon is a natural resource environmental education program that combines classroom learning and outdoor activities. Teams of five high school students compete at the county and state levels, testing their knowledge of soils and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife, and environmental issues.

"Envirothon students are already into the outdoors and the environment," said Tom Parke, CBF educator in Pennsylvania and manager of CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP). "Our focus is to provide professional development for teachers. With this training, we work with teachers who are already passionate environmental educators, so they can work to bring out the best in their students."

Gina Mason is the Envirothon advisor at Palmyra High School, Lebanon County. The school's team placed second in the statewide Envirothon in May. Mason said the workshop was "without a doubt" a good experience. "If the teachers don't learn, how do they teach the students?" Mason asked. "If you have experts teaching the teachers, then the teachers become the experts teaching their students." Mason said the workshop also provided beneficial networking opportunities and exposed teachers to different ways of doing things.

Forestry and soils were subjects for the teachers on the first day of the workshop at the Masonic Village Pavilion in Elizabethtown with presentations by Ed Dix of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry, and John Chibirka of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

On the second day, teachers paddled canoes on the lake at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and learned about factors that contribute to the lake's health, from LCCD watershed specialist Matt Kofroth. The teachers then conducted water tests, and collected and surveyed macro-invertebrates in nearby Elder Run, an exceptional value stream. In the afternoon, the group learned about waterfowl and mammals of Pennsylvania, and heard from Theresa Alberici, who coordinates the Envirothon on behalf of the Game Commission.

Brad McClain has been teaching Envirothon students at Warwick High School in Lancaster County since 2003 and was inspired by the workshop. "I got ideas that I can use to get more field experience with my team," McClain said. "Ideas on how to get more hands-on, like canoeing, that would be great for us to do. Our problem is that our kids are busy after school, so we meet in morning. I need to take it to the next level and start meeting after school."

The Envirothon program is in its infancy at Mechanicsburg High School in Cumberland County. "Water quality is important and for me, environmental education is about understanding the cause and benefits of what impacts we have and what expectations we have to clean things up. We struggle with getting people interested," Envirothon teacher Denise Uzupis said. "There were good ideas on how to get kids involved and get resources we otherwise would not be able to get our hands on."

"I learned a ton," said Amy Woods, Envirothon teacher at St. Francis Xavier in Gettysburg. "Like how to get the kids to really work with the material and concepts in hands-on ways so they are applicable to their lives now and in the future. I was really struggling with how to focus so much information and to get the kids interested in the limited amount of time we have. Just hearing the experts and their wealth of knowledge gave me more of a foundation."

This is the second year for Envirothon at Hughesville High School near Williamsport in Lycoming County. "We were just looking at what we needed to do to win," teacher Lisa Strouse said. "This workshop has made it so much more different. It is going to ignite a passion in them in taking care of the environment and finding career paths, and more than just winning."

This the 25th year for CBF's SWEP, which conducts summer training for adults, as well as day-trips for students during the school year. The 2015 fall season goes until Thanksgiving and Parke said the schedule is full with 45 student day-trips planned.

SWEP has conducted 2,000 programs and involved 43,000 participant with its spring and fall Environmental Education Days. It serves students in grades 6 to 12 in more than 25 central Pennsylvania counties.

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