ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
“All that pushing and practicing was worth it,” said Rendi Cress, one of eight Goessel High School students who recently attended regional and state Eco-Meets-competitions designed to promote education and interest in the environment.
Perhaps those words were gold to high school science teacher Don Dailey, who encouraged his students to try Eco-Meet for the first time in the history of Goessel.
The students came back with college-level knowledge and scholarship money.
“Scholarships are wonderful,” said Zac Church, who walked away with a total of $450 in scholarship money by placing first in individual ornithology and wildlife exams at regionals, first in team competition at regionals and first in individual ornithology competition at state.
Eco-Meet is a program developed in 1976 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was originally designed to stimulate a greater awareness of the environment in students in grades one through 12.
The present-day Eco-Meet has evolved to offer a higher level of competition for students in grades nine to 12.
The program goal is to provide a competitive atmosphere that promotes education and interest in the environment, according to Brian Underwood, director of natural resources at Lakewood Discovery Center.
The purpose of Eco-Meet is to put more of a hands-on approach to environmental science and ecology-based science, Dailey said.
“It’s a lot of stuff that the kids don’t regularly see in the curriculum, and it’s a lot of off-school time to get ready for it,” he said.
Regional competitions were held across the state. Participants competed for scholarship money and the chance to advance to the state competition at Rolling Hills Refuge near Salina.
Dailey currently teaches science, biology, general science, applied physics, physics, chemistry and environmental science at Goessel.
“We got into Eco-Meet because of the Charter School,” Dailey said.
Charter School is a new program for Goessel this year. It’s a grant by the State Board of Education to start up a “school within a school,” he said.
“In our case the emphasis is science, environment, agriculture and technology.”
Dailey heard about the Eco-Meet opportunity and presented the idea to his students at the beginning of the school year.
Ten regionals were held over a three-week period to determine who would go on to the state level. The Goessel regional event was held at Lakewood Discovery Center in Salina Oct. 3.
Eight Goessel high-school junior and senior students were divided up into team A and team B.
Team A included four seniors, Kim Voth, Zac Church, Amanda Woelk and Rendi Cress.
Team B was made up of three juniors, Andrea Rains, Zane Unrau and Mark Voth, and one senior, Mandy Hardey.
“We studied different books we received from Mr. Dailey, the public library or the high school library, and we went to different parks and looked at plants for regionals,” Cress said.
Entry fee at the regional level was a total of $40 for both teams and was paid by the school district.
Lasting one day, the event was divided into the following four competitions:
n Birds (Ornithology)-This category included general knowledge and identification of birds.
n Plant Scavenger Hunt-Participants were involved in the identification of Kansas plant materials presented in a scavenger-hunt format.
n General Wildlife-Students used mounts and artifacts to answer questions on habitat improvement, animal identification and anatomy.
n Interpretation-Each four-person team chose a topic in advance and gave a 10- to 15-minute interpretive presentation.
Students were given 100-point written tests in the ornithology and general wildlife categories, participated in a scavenger hunt, and presented team skits for the interpretation event.
General wildlife and ornithology tests lasted an hour, but at regionals most students were finished in 25 to 30 minutes. Dailey’s students were instructed to stay in the room until the hour was up and wait until the instructors asked for the tests to be turned in.
The students said they all stayed until the end of the tests while other students around them left early.
A sticky situation occurred during the scavenger hunt, the students said.
“Team B got lost at regionals on the scavenger hunt in a whole bunch of stickers and poison ivy,” Hardy said.
Team A was frustrated on the scavenger hunt, too, Cress said.
“We were supposed to have 30 minutes on our scavenger hunt,” Cress said.
“We knew what the stuff was, but we didn’t know where we were going because we had never been there before.”
The two Goessel teams competed against Sacred Heart’s four teams at regionals.
Team A placed first and each member received a $100 scholarship, and team B placed second, which earned each member a $75 scholarship. Both teams qualified to move on to the state competition.
Church won first place in the individual ornithology and wildlife contests and received an additional $150 in scholarship money. Kim Voth won second place in the wildlife category, garnishing her a $50 scholarship on top of her team earnings.
The scholarship money is held for the students until they enroll in a recognized university or college.
One week prior to the state meet, Dailey planned a scouting trip to the refuge to prepare his students for the more difficult competition.
“That was very helpful because we knew exactly where some things were,” Dailey said.
On Nov. 7, the two teams and Dailey were bussed to Rolling Hills Refuge outside of Salina for the state competition.
The total cost of the day-long competition was $80, which included entrance into the park and a meal.
The students competed again in the same three areas, but with different test questions. They also presented the same skit performed at the regional contest.
“Team A was a ‘Heaven Scene’ where we told how we were killed,” Cress said.
“Zac was a plains garter snake, I was a wolf spider, Amanda was a cottontail rabbit and Kim was poison ivy. You have to include your habitat, your reproduction, your life-cycle, your food and anything strange or interesting incorporated into a story.”
“Team B did a road-kill scene where they were killed on the highway. Andrea was a opossum, Mandy was a skunk, Zane was a raccoon and Mark was a turkey vulture.”
At the state level, Church placed first in the ornithology test and received a $200 scholarship, bringing the team totals for regionals and state to $1,100 in scholarships.
“I was hoping to place high at state, but I was prepared for the best and worst,” Church said.
“I grew up around wildlife and animals like this, and I’ve been identifying birds since I was able to talk. So it’s just something that comes naturally to me.”
Church has attended the Goessel school system since kindergarten. His parents are Bobby and Ruth Church, and he has a sister, Sarah, who is a junior at Goessel.
“I’m planning to go to college,” Church said.
“I’m thinking I might go to Fort Hays State this next year. I’ve pretty much got my major narrowed down to either music education or a wildlife management and fisheries degree.”
In the team competition at state, team B scored better than team A.
“They ended up 10th at state out of 27 teams and had a score of 235 out of 400, and team B was 13th with a score of 230.3,” Dailey said.
“At state, all but five of the teams were above 200 points so it’s a much tougher competition.
“For our first year, being at the top half at state was very good.”