High school students spent time in the great outdoors on April 13 when teams participated in the 2022 Charles County Envirothon held at Gilbert Run Park. Maurice J. McDonough High School’s Team 5 took first place, a team from Henry E. Lackey High School came in second with Team 6 from McDonough placed third.

Students on McDonough’s Team 5 include seniors Evan Whitten and Jason Haley, junior Mitchell Winkler, sophomore Ryon Price, and Trevor Bryant, a freshman. The Lackey team is made up of seniors Karl Jason Carlos, Tyne Kidd, Charlie Klinger, and Grace Landgraf. Senior Eileen Browning and juniors Mikayla Knodle, Paige Bennett, Hannah Freitag, and McKenna Gardiner are members of McDonough’s Team 6.

The Envirothon is a problem-solving academic competition that is the culmination of lessons learned during seasonal training at the Charles Soil Conservation District. Students answer questions in five categories — aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and a current environmental issue. The last topic changes each year. This year the fifth topic was Waste to Resources, which called on teams to learn concepts of different waste streams, such as trash and discarded materials produced by individuals, industries and other sources, and how to better manage them.

The competition, which relies heavily on students completing hands-on work, was canceled in 2020 and conducted virtually in 2021. This year, students were back among the water, trees and dirt. “It gives students that connection to the environment and why they should care about it,” Maddalena Nesbit, science teacher at St. Charles High School, said. “It’s hands-on learning.”

“They’re getting away from technology and learning to be without their phones,” Susan Menthe, a St. Charles science teacher, said, adding that the use of phones is prohibited in the competition. “It’s really fun to watch them get comfortable without technology. They might hesitate to touch a fish at first, then they realize it’s how they’ll learn, and they do it.”

While some students might be tentative to engage with nature at first, it doesn’t take long for them to acclimate to their surroundings, Kelly Bryant, Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) teacher at McDonough, said. “Once they get out here and start labeling trees, figuring out what kind of tree it is and the cool tools they get to use — like a Biltmore Stick. How many people get to use a Biltmore Stick? — the students want to learn and do more things to help the environment.” For those outside of the forestry industry, a Biltmore Stick is used to measure a tree’s diameter and height.

McDonough Team 5 will represent Charles County at the Maryland Envirothon on June 22 held at the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Education Center near Ellicott City. If the team advances at the state competition, the members will travel to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for the national contest from June 24 to 30.

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