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Morning Journal/Deanne Johnson A team of Columbiana students explore a soil pit at the Envirothon on the campus of Kent State University in Salem.

SALEM — High school students from northeast Ohio gathered at Kent State University’s Salem campus to test their skills and knowledge at the Envirothon.

Returning after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Envirothon returned with approximately 288 students, counselors and volunteers in attendance for the event Thursday. Students were sent outdoors around the lake and woods behind the main campus building to explore five eco-stations. There, the students were tested on their prior knowledge and ability to analyze the items placed before them in their environment.

There were hides to identify, trees to measure, aquatic macro-invertebrates to study, and a current environmental issue involving litter to ponder.

Thursday’s event was hosted by the Columbiana and Mahoning Counties Soil and Water Conservation Districts. It included 35 teams from 13 counties in the 17 county region, including local teams from Columbiana and Eastern Palestine.

According to Katie Nainiger, a conservation educator from Geauga County, each station included a list of questions for students to answer. Teams are often made up of students, each of whom is interested in one of the study areas of the event. The students had a certain amount of time at each station to answer their questions.

After all scores were compiled, the top four teams were chosen to advance to state competition later this summer. Nainiger has said in the past that Zone Two, which makes up northeast Ohio, has done very well in state competition. During the state competition, a team will be chosen for the National Envirothon in July, which this year will be hosted by the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio. National competition students will come from across the country, Canada and China.

But even for the teams that didn’t move, Thursday’s event was an opportunity to get outdoors in a different, hands-on kind of classroom in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Additionally, Nainiger said students were able to meet and interact with natural resource professionals, who were the ones who managed the various stations the students visited along the way. For example, Matthew Smith is the manager of the Northeast Ohio Scenic River with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Salem’s Tom Butch is retired from the Mineral Resources Division and ran the Current Environmental Issue station, where the 2022 theme was Waste to Resources.

Not only do students learn more about the environment, but they also learn more about areas that might interest them for the careers of their future.

“It’s an event that has always been close to my heart” said Nainiger.

The winning teams from Thursday’s event were Theodore Roosevelt in Portage County, first place; Geauga County Red Thistle; Brecksville Broadview Heights of Cuyahoga County and Southeast Gold of Portage County.

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