Learning new concepts while showing off what they already know, pupils from area middle schools converged at the Watson-Brown Foundation in Thomson Friday to compete in the seventh annual Eco-Meet Challenge.
In the day-long competition, 104 pupils from Thomson, Grovetown, Greenbrier, Davidson Fine Arts, Lakeside, Wrens, Schofield, Merriwether and Westview middle schools were tested at hands-on stations covering topics such as archeology, wetlands, fire science, ornithology, meteorology and lake ecology.
"It's always well-planned, and they are very organized," said Wrens Middle School teacher Catherine Massey. "We come here every year, and we have the best time. It's a good way to keep the kids excited, and it supports what I teach in the classroom."
Cathy Black, a senior forester with the Georgia Forestry Commission, said she made the fire science station realistic by creating a scenario of the Waycross fire.
"Some of these kids are really sharp," Ms. Black said. "So I tried to change the test this year and make it applicable."
Throughout the day, various students commented that the wetlands station was by far the most difficult. At the station, created by Ruth Mead, the senior education specialist of the Southeastern National Science Academy at Phinizy Swamp, the students had to differentiate types of soil and identify microscopic life in the water.
"She definitely puts the challenge in Eco-Meet Challenge," said Michelle Zupan, curator at the WBF.
Each school was represented by three teams of four pupils who were chosen by their teachers to participate. Upon registration, which began in January, the teams were given packets of material to study in preparation for the event.
Ms. Zupan said Thomson Middle students only recently registered and received their packets because they had previously been preparing for the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests required by the state. During the week before the competition, seventh grader Ansley Thrift said her team had been going over the study material and playing quiz games with buzzers.
"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," said Deundra Leair, another TMS seventh grader. "But it wasn't easy, either."
While waiting for their scores to be tallied at the end of the competition, the pupils were entertained by Pete Griffin, a Wildlife Interpretive Specialist with the Department of Natural Resources, who showed live birds of prey and delivered his lesson stand-up comedian-style.
Before Mr. Griffin brought out his birds - two types of owls, a red-tailed hawk and a bald eagle - he instructed the students on remaining calm so they wouldn't frighten the wild birds. He warned the students that the birds would try to fly but were tethered, and they would also "use the bathroom."
"Birds go every day, and it isn't hilarious, so you don't need to fall apart," he said in a manner that adolescents could understand. "Do you go to the bathroom every day? It's not hilarious when you go, is it? So don't fall apart when they do it."
Mr. Griffin allowed the students to teach the lesson themselves, by asking questions for them to answer, rather than lecturing. He explained that environmental understanding was "important stuff" because it helps the students know where they fit in life. He answered questions, calling the students' scenarios the "what-if monster."
For the over-all competition, Davidson Fine Arts "purple team" won third place, Merriwether "blue team" won second and Davidson Fine Arts "yellow team" won first place.
"Well, we won in our hearts," quipped TMS student Cullen Wallace.
The challenge was developed by the Environmental Science Education Cooperative to promote excellence in environmental education and combines the efforts of 26 non-profit organizations in the Central Savannah River Area.