Pembroke Hill team wins international Canon Envirothon

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Kansas City, Mo. -- A high school team from Missouri used Olympic-like preparations to become North American champs in a science competition based on conservation and natural resources. Students from Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City on July 26 won the 2012 Canon Envirothon, topping teams from 44 states, nine Canadian provinces and one Canadian territory.

Pembroke Hill won by edging out West Hill Secondary School from Owen Sound, Ontario. Third place went to Enloe High School of Raleigh, N.C.

Pembroke Hill also won top honors in the oral presentation category.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” said Jeremy Soucy, education consultant for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Soucy organized the regional Envirothon won by the Pembroke Hill team in March at MDC’s Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs. “I’m glad we were able to help them, and I hope they continue to share their knowledge and work for conservation.”

Pembroke Hill fielded two teams in April at the Missouri Envirothon held in Columbia. The school’s blue team won, and then that team topped the field at the international Canon Envirothon held at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa.

Team members included Wanda Czerwinski, Hosain Ghassemi, Ryan Hrinya, Jeffrey Rubel, Riley Sloan and alternate Vincent Czerwinski. SueAnn Wright coaches the team. The students were each awarded $5,000 college scholarships, medallions and Canon camera equipment.

Pembroke Hill’s Envirothon champs began preparing for the competition last October. Field trips to MDC offices and conservation areas followed, along with lengthy weekend study session’s at Wright’s home.

“The students I work with all enjoy competition and being pushed,” Wright said. “I’m pretty competitive, too. I think we developed a passion for this together.”

MDC staff helps Envirothon teams prepare for competition by hosting workshops and providing study materials.

“We do most of our outdoor training at Burr Oak Woods (Nature Center),” Wright said.

That includes walks through the woods to study tree identification and forest ecology, all fodder for potential test questions. MDC’s Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center at 4750 Troost Ave. in Kansas City came into special play this year, too. The current event topic for 2012 Envirothon was low-impact development and controlling non-point source water pollution, which involves storm water management. The Discovery Center is noted for its environmentally friendly green design and landscaping.

“The parking lot here (Discovery Center) has bioswales, and that’s not something that a lot of places have,” said team member Wanda Czerwinski.

Bioswales are a best management practice way to capture stormwater, recharge groundwater and cleanse runoff during heavy rains. For the oral presentation, teams in the competition were asked to help solve real-life storm water problems facing two Pennsylvania townships. Pembroke Hill’s team developed plans and maps, and members included bioswales among solutions for new developments and for re-developing older neighborhoods.

“It’s unique to be able to go into a conservation center and see these things being put into practice,” said team member Riley Sloan.

The wildlife portion of the competition ranged from identifying duck species by looking at wings to evaluating ecological consequences from management practices. Test stations were outdoors. That made the practice field trips at MDC areas valuable.

“They gave us the chance to be out in the different environments that might be on the tests,” said team member Hosian Ghassemi.

At one station, students found some fur, a critter’s footprints and a scratched wooden post. The question was: what happened here? Pembroke Hill answered correctly. A porcupine scratched the post and had been attacked by a fisher, another furbearer.

Pembroke Hill, a private school in Kansas City, has participated in regional and state Envirothon events for five years. A team from the school has won the state event for the past four years and earned the right to represent Missouri in the international event. This was the school’s first win at the Canon Envirothon, which is sponsored by Canon USA, Inc.

All the students on this year’s winning team will be back at Pembroke Hill this autumn and will aim for the 2013 Envirothon competitions.

Just like many competition’s, this year’s win in the Canon Envirothon went “down to the wire,” Czerwinski said. Team members had a limited time to prepare their oral presentation, which carries extra weight in the scoring.

“I think what they’re trying to emphasize,” she said, “is that information is important, but it’s more important to be able to communicate that information.”