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For Immediate Release: May 23, 2006
Contact: Lynne Richmond  (609) 292-8896         

A group of high school students had some firsts when they participated in a statewide environmental competition at a Monmouth County scout reservation  – their first camping experience, first campfire and first s’mores, that chocolaty-marshmallow-graham cracker treat kids have been eating around campfires for decades. 

But, for the team of students from High Tech High School in North Bergen who placed first in the 2006 New Jersey Envirothon, held in Manalapan on Saturday, May 13, winning was not one of those firsts.  High Tech High School was the returning champion from the 2005 Envirothon, having gone on to the national Canon Envirothon in Missouri last year in which they placed 6th

The 13th Annual New Jersey Envirothon, a natural resources problem solving competition for high school students, featured a record 43 teams of 215 students representing 17 counties.  The event was sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s State Soil Conservation Committee and the New Jersey Association of Conservation Districts, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the 15 state Soil Conservation Districts.

Cassaundra Abousamak, an 18 year old High Tech High School senior, who was on both year’s winning teams, said she has always cared about the environment and joined the school’s Environmental Club in her sophomore year when they sent their first teams to the Envirothon.

“The Envirothon is an opportunity to learn about the environment and compete against kids who also care about the environment,” said Abousamak.  “I also have learned about teamwork, cooperation and relating to others and their strengths.”

The other students on the winning High Tech High School team were Kenglei Wang, Catherine Dowie, Daniel Barringer, and Rammy Salem.

The teams participated in six testing stations: soil, forestry, wildlife, aquatics, current issues and team presentations.  Several days before the Envirothon, they were given this year’s topic, “Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate,” for which they had to prepare a team presentation.  For each station, the students were tested through hands-on interactive problem-solving activities and written tests of their knowledge of the subject.

Though very active in Agricultural Education and FFA -- a student organization of agricultural students -- Allentown High School in Monmouth County was attending the Envirothon for the first time this year. 

Erin Noble, an Allentown FFA advisor and natural science and nursery and landscape teacher, said, upon the urging of Department of Agriculture staff, she decided to gather a group of her students to compete in the Envirothon.

“A lot of the information is aligned with our current curriculum,” said Noble.  “After competing in the FFA environmental science contest in April and coming in third in the state, I felt the kids were prepared for the Envirothon.”

One of Noble’s students, Daniel Finn, a senior at Allentown High School, said he feels competing in the Envirothon will help him when he studies botany in college next year.

“What we learned here is a great head start for what I will be studying in college,” said Finn.  “The Envirothon is a rare opportunity that you can only get at certain schools.  Plus, it’s fun to be in.”

Conservation education is part of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s program to sustain agriculture in the future.

“The Envirothon is an opportunity to teach teenagers about the importance of preserving New Jersey’s natural resources,” said New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus.  “They can learn that by working together, they can accomplish great things and help ensure the health of the environment for future generations.”

During the competition, students identified tree species, wildlife by pelts and skulls, and fish and aquatic insects, determined soil textures and climbed in soil pits to identify soil horizons.

New state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson attended the Envirothon for the first time and told the students that coming from New Orleans, where her mother lost the house she grew up in during Hurricane Katrina last year, has given her a unique understanding of the importance of  natural resources.

“Water, how much of it and it’s quality, is vital to life in New Jersey,” said Jackson.  “We are fighting to protect the quality of our water, but we need the help of our citizenry and you are our citizenry.  You might be future Environmental Protection employees.”

Awards in the Envirothon included $1,000 college scholarships for the first-place team, as well as scholarships to Montclair State University and Richard Stockton State College, if the students attend those colleges.  High Tech High School’s team will now advance to the Canon Envirothon competition to be held July 23-29 at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

“The Envirothon is the single most important component of conservation education,” said Ken Marsh, President of the New Jersey Association of Conservation Districts, a primary sponsor of the Envirothon.  “These students will be the next generation to protect the environment.  The hope is that they will bring back what they learned here to their friends and families.”

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