ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DAVID VOGEL
Ask any teenager what they’ve been doing this summer, and most replies will be the same: sleeping in, summer jobs, hanging out with friends.
But five Peabody youth have been spending their summer preparing for the International Envirothon competition, which is taking place this week in Winnipeg, Man.
The Envirothon team-Derek Benson (2006 graduate), Ben Jantzen (2006 graduate), Jason Unruh (senior), Duane Unruh (junior), Ryan Wiebe (junior) and sponsor Sonja Roberts-traveled this last weekend to the international competition.
Peabody-Burns High School has had an Envirothon team for the past 10 years or so.
“It was here when I came here five years ago,” Roberts said.
Two members of the team have been participating in similar competitions since junior high.
“Ben and I started when we were seventh graders,” Benson said, “and we’ve been part of the same teams until now as seniors. It’s been a lot of fun just to see how far we’ve grown from being clear at the bottom and having no idea what we were doing, until now, being top of the state and going to internationals.”
Added Jantzen: “I remember when the first time Derek and I went. I don’t know how Derek felt, but I was like, ‘All right, a day out of school.’ I really had no idea that this could lead to what we’re doing today.”
“It’s been a lot of fun to grow in knowledge and be like, ‘Hey, we want to be like them,’ when we were younger,” Benson said. “Now we’ve actually stepped up into that roll now.”
The road to Canada
For teams to make it to the international level, they must perform the best at both the regional/county and state levels. This is the first time a Peabody-Burns team has ever represented Kansas at this level.
“We started with the county,” Jantzen said, “and then we won that and proceeded to state. We won state, and that’s what got us into international.”
Fifty-one Envirothon teams will be competing at the international level, from both the United States and Canada. This year’s competition at the University of Manitoba.
Monday and Tuesday, the boys spent learning about the five different areas they will be tested in: soils/land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife and an oral report over the environmental issues in each area of the competition.
“More or less, for two days they are note takers-like they’re sitting in a classroom,” Roberts said. “But it’s an outdoor classroom.”
Wednesday will bring a 100-question test over each area.
“They get to do that as a team,” Roberts said. “There’s no individual activity.”
The tests are mostly hand-written, which makes good handwriting an issue.
“With five boys,” Roberts said, “you really have to be, ‘OK, who’s the writer?’
“They’ve really got to be able to break the test up instead of just starting at question one and working their way down,” she added.
“Sometimes we know most of the questions, but it’s always those last two or three that we sit around and wait and discuss and discuss a couple minutes’ worth,” Jantzen said.
Added Unruh: “Within your team, you might have read something that no one else really did, so you have a different opinion on what the right answer is. Sometimes we discuss some of those for a while, and then we might end up being pressed for time at the end.”
Roberts said each member of the team has an area of specialty, so he focuses on that part of the test.
“Jason really enjoys aquatics, Ben really likes soils and Derek is wildlife, and so they’ve taken it upon themselves to take one of the topics and be knowledgeable within that information.”
Preparing for orals
On Thursday, the team will spend almost the entire day sitting in a room preparing for its oral presentation.
“They’re pretty much confined to a room with a proctor, who is their team sponsor for the day,” Roberts said. The proctor will be responsible for providing whatever the boys may need throughout the day.
The oral reports are to be 20 minutes long, and all students must have equal participation in speaking. In addition to the content and input of each student in the oral presentation, the group also is judged on its appearance, the ideas presented, how members carried themselves throughout the week, and how they worked together within the group.
“It’s good we don’t have a lot of major team arguments,” Unruh said. “We do have some, but we have a good group of five guys who get along pretty well.”
The team noted that the oral presentation is the most challenging. Information for the presentation has been the main focus at the five or six preparation sessions they’ve had throughout the summer.
“Basically, it’s just the current issues because we have to learn about Canada and about global warming and jet streams and a bunch of stuff we’ve never dealt with before,” Unruh said. “That’s what we’ve been looking over and trying to grasp a little bit of knowledge about.”
The group will give its presentation on Friday, and later that day attend the awards banquet.
Teams placing first through fifth at the competition will win college scholarships starting at $5,000 per member. Teams finishing sixth through 10 will receive technology equipment from Canon, the Envirothon sponsor.
Preparing for the competition has been almost completely on the boys’ individual time.
“For the most part, together we just gather the information from the Web sites and then we split it up and take it home,” Unruh said. “Mostly, just looking over and reading information is about all we can do for now.”
Added Benson: “I’d say the hardest part for me is to just crack down and actually study for it. We have sheets of paper- they’re like books, they’re huge.”
Roberts described the materials the team has to go through as “lots of reading materials and tons and tons of Web sites.”
“You get it and you’re gung-ho and you start looking through it and then you’re like, ‘Man, there’s just no way,'” Benson said. “But when you actually sit down and start digging through some of the stuff and picking out information, it’s really crazy how much you learn.
“There have been several years where we’ve just went in just trying to go on what we know already, just from basic knowledge. But it’s really helped that we’ve cracked down and actually started to look at some of the information.”
As for preparing for the trip financially, money has not been a big issue.
“It’s really not a big expense to us-just because of our state conservation districts,” Roberts said. “They pay all of our registration fees for us, which is $600 per person. More or less, we’re responsible for getting ourselves to Canada and getting ourselves home. Once we’re in Canada, we’re taken care of.”
“Our school donated our Suburban and gas money,” Benson added.
“Everyone has been very generous,” Roberts said. “I don’t know if they’ve been turned down by anybody.”
Roberts is hopeful about the team’s chances at the international level.
“We’d like to bring home some loot,” she said with a smile.
“What I like about the team,” Jantzen said, “is we just all seem to get long, and we’re all country kids. I don’t know, we all just have an easygoing attitude, and just whatever happens, happens. It just seems to work all right.”
Added Benson: “I guess this kind of contest is something that I want to do in this area when I grow up. I’m going to college to be an environmental science major. I want to have a job in the same field, so this contest has really helped me set my foot in that direction in deciding that that’s what I want to do with my life.”
“It would be nice (if they won),” Roberts said. “Because then, of course, Ben and Derek are done because they’ve graduated.
“All I expect,” she added, “is for them to take their knowledge that they know and do the best they can do. That’s pretty much all you can expect.”