BARTON COUNTY — Armed with determination in search of knowledge of their own surroundings, more than 100 high school students from across the state participated in a scavenger hunt and an interpretive play, and took tests about herpetology and woodland ecology on Thursday at the Kansas State Eco-Meet held at Camp Aldrich and the Kansas Wetlands Education Center. The Eco-Meet is where learning of Kansas’ wildlife and plants led to fun and scholarships.
"It’s an opportunity to learn about the world around them," said Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension agent. "It is a practical application. It gives students experience when we work with the natural world."
Twenty-five teams from as far away as Kansas City qualified in nine regional events to make it to the state competition. The top three scoring teams received scholarships as well as the top two individual scorers.
Although the temperature was cool and the Kansas wind was blowing the students enjoyed testing their knowledge outdoors in the scavenger hunt. "It’s tons of fun," said Hayden Compton, from St. Mary’s Colgan School in Pittsburg.
His teammate Joe Otter agreed. "We were in the Boy Scouts," said Otter. "We thought we’d be good at it, and it turns out we were."
Another event, the interpretive event, allowed students to communicate their ideas to an audience through a skit. The teams, which consisted for three or four students, chose a Kansas plant or animal to portray around a theme such as "An interview with a spider." During the presentation, each member explained what their animal or plant ate, where they lived, how they reproduce, and what their physical appearance is.
"The purpose is to work as a team and on public speaking," said Mike Radar. "Do they do it in an entertaining fashion?"
Finally, two scored tests are given to the students, one on herpetology, the other on woodlands ecology. The tests given to the students are challenging and are considered to be a college-level zoology lab final. Live animals, audio-taped calls, study of skins and mounted specimens are used. "It is up to the students to prepare," said Radar. Although "some teachers incorporate the materials."
The Blue Valley North Team took first, Wilson Team A took second, and Wakefield Team A took third. In the individual competition, Samantha Parker, Blue Valley North, took first in both the herpetology and woodlands tests. The second-place winner for the woodland test was Austin Rice, Blue Valley North, and the second-place winner for the herpetology test was Shannon Nelson, Maize High School Team A.
The first Eco-Meet was held in Pennslyvania in 1976. The concept has spread, and meets are now held in Illinois, Georgia, Maryland and Kansas. The first Kansas meet was held in 1991 and has grown rapidly since 1999.
The program is designed to fill gaps in education. In high school, some students can tell you what is in the rain forest but sometimes can’t tell you what is around them, said Radar.