Optimists learn about Envirothon

On July 21, the Optimist Club of St. Andrews-Irmo hosted speakers Hugh Caldwell and Barbara Padgett, representing the South Carolina Envirothon. The event they detailed is hosted annually by the SC Department of Natural Resources.

Envirothon began nationally in 1979 to raise awareness among high school students who showed an interest in environmental issues. South Carolina sent its first team to the nationals in 1997. The competition has grown to involve seven U.S. states, eleven Canadian provinces, and two Chinese delegations. 

In South Carolina, Envirothon is a competition staged at a pre-selected location where 30 teams consisting of five members rotate through six stations. Those stations address such topics as soils, water, forestry, wildlife, air quality, realities of climate change, and the unique aspects of the local ecosystem at the site of the competition. The time spent at each of those stations is limited to 30 minutes. Every team has a coach who has prepared it for Envirothon day, but the coach does not accompany the team on its actual event day. In all, 30 teams compete in the event.

The team then prepares a 10-minute treatment of a single topic to present to a panel consisting of professors from Clemson and USC, plus representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That session is a give-and-take that allows the team to defend its presentation.

There is a winning team declared and awarded a trip to the international competition, to be held this year in Canada. Locally, the winning team earns a $1,000 scholarship per member. The runnerup team members earn a $500 scholarship. The speakers noted that over the past few years, the most successful teams have been from the Spartanburg area.

The speakers added that nationally, more than 500,000 students are influenced by the program every year. Long-term, the goal of Envirothon is to equip students to be proactive, environmentally-motivated adults.

Toward the end of the presentation, the speakers mentioned the South Carolina Governor’s School for Agriculture, located in McCormick, at the John de la Howe School. First of its kind in the U.S., the school offers high school aged students an on-residence education in all phases of agriculture. It was noted that although career opportunities in agriculture are plentiful, there is a serious lack of qualified people to fill those roles.

Having graduated its first-ever senior class in 2022, the school continues to produce prepared students for careers in agriculture.