By Rob Taylor – STEM Mentor and Envirothon Advisor – Spruce Mountain High School
Envirothon is the world’s largest high school Environmental Science competition and has been held annually at the national level since 1988. Maine hosted the national Envirothon in 1991 and the Maine Association of Conservation Districts has been running the Maine Envirothon for decades. The Envirothon involves students learning about the environmental issues of their state and the students compete in field tests in the areas of soil science, forestry, aquatic ecology, wildlife management, and a yearly current issue. The current model for the program has teams participating in regional and state level events each spring, with winning teams from states and provinces in the U.S., Canada, and China attending an International Competition during the summer.
Here are some reasons why Envirothon belongs in Maine High Schools:
Envirothon Helps Students Meet Science Standards
Student Envirothon participants derive great benefits from the program, as it develops environmental literacy and STEM skills. A recent analysis of the current Maine Science and Engineering Standards (also known as the Next Generation Science Standards or NGSS) for high school students revealed that 34 out of 72 (47%) of the 9-12 NGSS performance expectations may be met through Maine Envirothon activities (analysis available at https://tinyurl.com/mt8vxuhe, part of www.enviroMEed.com.) This demonstrates the tremendous educational benefit of Envirothon. By providing more students at more schools the opportunity to participate in Envirothon, Maine will see an increase in science literacy and awareness of environmental issues among high school students.
Community and Volunteer Involvement
Envirothon programs can become hubs for community service. For example, at Spruce Mountain High School in Jay, students collect data on local drinking water sources, serve as stewards for the Androscoggin Land Trust Stevens Island preserve, participate in an American Chestnut Foundation hybrid tree breeding program, work on maintaining trails, and participate in a number of other activities. Envirothon can get students interested in serving their community and making the world a better place.
Accessing the Outdoors – Improving Mental Health
Envirothon can also have an impact on student access to the outdoors and on their mental well-being. Richard Louv, the author of The Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder once said, “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” He added, “An environment-based education movement – at all levels of education – will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to a wider world.” Environmental education and simply being outside in nature has benefits to our student’s mental health. Envirothon provides opportunities to get outside and this is sorely lacking in the lives of many of our students. Envirothon gets kids out of the classroom and into Maine’s beautiful natural world. Students learn how to dress for the weather (Envirothon activities happen rain or shine), how to find their way (map and compass skills), and how to use their senses and powers of observation. Envirothon participation teaches students how to access the outdoors in a time where young people spend less and less time outside. As Louv said, “An indoor (or backseat) childhood does reduce some dangers to children; but other risks are heightened, including risks to physical and psychological health, risk to children’s concept and perception of community, risk to self-confidence and the ability to discern true danger.”
Envirothon can provide benefits to all Maine High Schools. While some teams take the event really seriously and put in a tremendous amount of time and effort preparing, simply forming a team and attending a competition holds valuable rewards for students. For more information on Envirothon, visit www.maineenvirothon.org