Fourteen Envirothon teachers from Pennsylvania and Virginia went paddling, turned over rocks, and studied forestry and soils during a two-day workshop, 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.
"One of our focuses is to provide professional development for teachers," said Tom Parke, CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP) manager. "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."
SWEP conducts summer training for adults, as well as day-trips for students during the school year. In its 25 years, SWEP has conducted 2,000 programs and involved 43,000 participants with its spring and fall Environmental Education Days. It serves students in grades 6 to 12 in more than 25 central Pennsylvania counties.
Gina Mason is the Envirothon advisor at Palmyra High School in Lebanon County and a SWEP veteran. Palmyra students have gone on SWEP trips for more than ten years and the school's team placed second in the statewide Envirothon in May. Mason said the workshop for teachers 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 and other teachers said they benefited greatly from networking opportunities and sharing of ideas over the two days in Lancaster County.
Brad McClain has been teaching Envirothon students at Warwick High School in Lancaster County since 2003. "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."
Forestry and soils were subjects for the teachers the first day of the workshop at the Masonic Village Pavilion in Elizabethtown.
The group dodged thunderstorms and high waters on the second day. Plans to paddle the Susquehanna River pivoted to canoeing Swatara Creek, then ultimately shifted to "Plan C," spending the day at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's 6,200-acre Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Paddling on the 360-acre impoundment, the group spotted a bald eagle, conducted water tests, and heard about water quality in the lake and Lancaster County from LCCD watershed specialist Matt Kofroth. Middle Creek was built for waterfowl and in 2010 was designated as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area. Snow geese have slowly adjusted their routes north to include Middle Creek. About 110,000 snow geese were there on March 16 of this year.
The teachers also had the chance to conduct water tests, and collect and survey living organisms in nearby Elder Run, an exceptional value stream. Among the findings was a small native brook trout, hellgrammite, and a northern dusky salamander.
In the afternoon, the teachers learned about waterfowl and mammals of Pennsylvania, and heard from Theresa Alberici, who coordinates the Envirothon on behalf of the Game Commission.
Ms. Alberici acknowledged that the Envirothon test is challenging and its lessons are lifelong. "There are kids who really do know a lot about the environment and this is the chance to show off their knowledge," she said. "Some kids might be involved in a career that involves the environment. But if not, they will think about the environment no matter what. So if they are a lawyer or accountant or on a construction crew, they will think about what they are doing and how what they are doing affects the environment. That's just as important as a career in the environment."
—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator