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Palm Beach County Team Takes Florida Envirothon Title

They tried year after year for four years at county-level competitions.  And as they watched other teams take top honors, they kept at it. Winning team members Melisa Blasky, Michelle Newman, Emily Silverberg, Jennifer McCrate and Connor SThis year their hard work paid off, and those five students from Jupiter High School in Palm Beach County made it to the state-level competition and won the Florida Envirothon last week.

The “Pine People” team (left) walked away with the trophy, $400 and a chance to compete for regional honors July 21-25 in Junction City, KS. The money will help pay for their travel expenses to Kansas.

The two-day event brought winning Envirothon teams from 21 Florida high schools to Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center in Jefferson County to test their skills in outdoor sciences, including aquatics, soils, forestry, wildlife and current events.

Team advisor, Phil Weinrich, has been coaching students for Envirothon since 1993It really wasn’t any surprise that Jupiter High School’s Envirothon team won the state. They have won four times in the last six years. The school is an environmental magnet, where students must apply to get in and start studying environmental science in ninth grade. “They start young and have the tenacity to not give up even when they have been beaten over and over again,” said the team’s advisor, Phil Weinrich, (photo left) who has been coaching students for Envirothon since 1993.   

But even after all the hard work, when the Jupiter High School students won, they were thrilled. They jumped up and down. Then they talked in the car all the way back during the six-hour drive from Tallahassee to West Palm Beach about everything that happened, kids they had met, the competition they will face in Kansas. “I am glad they were talking; I had to drive,” Weinrich said.

This may be Weinrich's last Envirothon. After 33 years teaching environmental science in high school, and eight years running a nature center before that, Weinrich is retiring. He is going to miss his students, “I love being with them. They are bright, enthusiastic, affectionate and loyal. These kids have a strong sense of personal commitment,” he said. 

More than 40 volunteers coordinated the contest, set up and tore down testing stations, graded 105 students and fed more than 170 people. “We couldn’t pull this off without the volunteers who developed the tests and gave them,” said Jennifer Abbey, district conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service(NRCS) in Plant City, Fla.  Those volunteers come from various agencies, such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Florida Forest Service, and other NRCS employees.

Abbey became involved in Envirothon in 2005, when she began preparing teams for the competition. She brought soil samples so they could practice using the soil texturing field flow chart, she showed them how to use the USDA textural triangle and the Munsell soil color chart and they identified trees using a dichotomous key. Students learned about the USDA soil survey and identified animal tracks Abbey brought made out of flexible plastic and rubber. Abbey is now on the board of directors with Envirothon, helping organize the event in Florida.

 “Those were the days that I became hooked. Envirothon teaches students in a hands-on way and emphasizes real world application. Even if they don’t choose an environmental career path, they still take away an important understanding of the natural environment we live in and are a part of,” she said.

Overall winners: first place:  Pine People from Jupiter High School representing Palm Beach County; second place: Natures Finest from Chiles High School representing Leon County; and, third place: Feisty FAWCS from Atlantic Coast High School representing Duval County. 

Category recognition awards: soils, Riptide from Cape Coral High School representing Lee County;  forestry, Zaggin from Manatee High School representing Manatee County; aquatics, EcoRaiders from Miami Palmetto Sr High;  current issues, Munsells Loamies from North Bay Haven Charter Academy representing Bay County; wildlife, Snipe Dynasty from Canterbury School of Florida representing Pinellas County; and, oral question, Disciples of Reagan from Union County High School representing Union County.