How I Found my Niche In elementary school, I had always been shy and never had more than one or two friends. I spent most of my time with my nose in a book, and outside playing in the dirt with my animals. Before I went into high school I felt like the bonds I had made with fictional character was enough. Then something changed and eating lunch with my book wasn’t enough anymore. I had a new goal; to make a friend that would last me all through high school. I tried to get as academically involved as possible by joining various clubs. I had hoped this would bring me out of my shell and also spark a friendship or two.
I joined clubs such as Debate club, vet club, student government, newspaper, and any other club I found out about, but none of them felt like the right fit. I became very apprehensive and started feeling like i would never accomplish my goal. When I told Mr. Fritz; my biology teacher, about my desire to find a club where I could meet people with similar interests he suggested I join Ecology Club. The club was having its first meeting that day, and I knew I needed to be there. I went after school to the Biology classroom. I sat down next to a girl with blonde short hair and glasses; she introduced herself as Tabitha.
She told me that this was her 2nd year in the club, and promised we would have a great year. Mr. Fritz turned off the lights and pulled up a presentation to introduce what Ecology Club did and the subjects would be learning. He told us the club would be going into depth on the elements that make up our Arizona ecosystem, such as, soils, aquatics, forestry, and wildlife, and an annual topic; this year it would be Sustainable Agriculture. Towards the end of the year we would break into teams of five and compete against various schools in Arizona.
Each student would be specializing in one of the five ecological subjects. The inning team would win a cash prize and go on to compete at nationals. After the slideshow was over we played a few games about ecology. Mr. Fritz introduced all of our native trees and wildlife, and after we tried our best to match the pictures to their names. At the end of the meeting, Tabitha gave me her phone number. She told me if i had any questions or just wanted to call and talk I could. I left the meeting feeling excited about the new friendship, and the possibility of winning Envirothon.
Every Friday, I would go to school and be overjoyed, not because it was almost the weekend, but because I got to go to Ecology Club! The first few meetings we learned about soils. It sounded boring at first, but the more I learned the more interesting it became. I started to wonder if soils would be my specialized subject. We identified the features of a soil profile, including clay, organic matter, sand, and silt. We looked at soil formation factors, and other important information in identifying soils. With the last part of our meeting, we tested a variety of soils.
We also played around making balls with clay based soil and stacking them to make snowmen, we called them dirtmen; it made me feel like a kid again. As the weeks went on I made more friends than I had ever had. I knew everyone in Ecology Club and Everyone knew me! I started becoming better friends with Tabitha. We would have lunch together, and talk about environmental issues and laugh at jokes that made no sense. We would go out on the weekends and see movies together and go shopping. I had finally found what I was looking for; a friendship that would last a lifetime.
The next month we started to learn about Aquatics, we learned how to recognize various aquatic species, how to accurately find the PH and Turbidity, and many other things. During this month a new student came to Ecology Club. She introduced herself as Mackenzi Byrnes At first she was very quiet, but as the month went on she started talked to more people in the club. One day i decided to have lunch with her and we instantly connected. We loved all the same music, movies, and jokes. I was excited that only after two months of going to ecology club i had already made two great friends.
The month after Aquatics we went over wildlife and forestry. In wildlife we learned about identifying animals; living animals and also bones of animals. The knowledge we needed for Forestry as also mainly identification. Throughout the month we learned new key terms and reviewed the previous material. The last subject we talked about was the annual topic; Sustainable Agriculture. We read countless articles about different ways sustainable agriculture worked and ideas we could utilize in solving our problem that would be given at the competition.
We went on different field trips to sustainable farms, we talked to farmers, and businessmen to learn everything we could in order to win Envirothon and take home a trophy. After we had gone over all of the subjects, Mr. Fritz asked us to rite down our two prefered subjects and at the next meeting he would announce our teams. All week i couldn’t stop thinking about who would be on my team and what subject i would be given. I wanted Mackenzi and Tabitha to be on my team more than anything. By friday’s meeting i was at the edge of my seat with anticipation.
When the meeting started Mr. Fritz brought a paper up to the front of the class and announced our teams. My team mates included; Tabitha as the wildlife specialist, Mackenzi the forestry specialist, Cydney the aquatics specialist, and Mikayla as the sustainable agriculture specialist, and I was the oil specialist. I was overjoyed and even more excited for the upcoming competition! Everyone was nervous the whole week before we left. The night before we left, we decided to have a team sleepover to prepare for the next day. We Studied all night long, played matching games of fish, wildlife, and trees.
We had a great night, we ate pizza, made tye-dye shirts, and laughed about every little thing. By the end of the night, my nervousness was gone and I couldn’t wait to go on this amazing adventure with my great new friends! The morning we left, my nerves started kicking in, but I was so xcited I couldn’t think of anything else besides winning. We drove to the Hacienda girl scout camp in Tucson. The camp was breathtaking, with gorgeous red buildings, and a variety of trees everywhere. When we arrived there wasn’t enough room for everyone to stay in the cabins, so all of the teams camped out in different places around the camp.
I shared a tent with my three best friends; Tabitha, Mackenzi, and Cydney, we set up our tent quickly in the sand volleyball court. After we played card games and gossiped with our other teamates until it was lights out. The next day we woke up, got ready quickly, and went to reakfast. At breakfast the judges explained that we would be taking a bus to a nearby park for the testing. The park that we went to looked like something out of a movie, every plant was perfectly manicured, birds were singing, frogs croaked, the lake was blue and slightly murky but still breathtaking; everything was perfect.
My team started out on the wildlife ecostation; we were given binoculars, and across the small field one of the judges held up a picture of a bird for thirty seconds. After the image was gone we had to quickly find that bird in a guide with hundreds of species, and write down our best answer. Luckily many of us knew just by looking at the bird what it was. Then we had to examine skulls, and write down what animal they originated from, and after all of our answers were submitted it was time to move on to the Aquatic ecostation.
When we got to the next ecostation, two teammates went to test the water for the various extensive tests that needed to be completed while the rest of us worked on a group test about what we know about Aquatics. The last ecostation was the forestry and soil ecostation; it was similar to the Aquatic station. Mackenzi and I went to ribbon the three soil samples, this can tell us how much lay content is in soil from where it breaks off. The rest of the team filled out another test that was about soil. After we finished each of the ecostations, we went back to our camp for lunch.
During lunch the judges announced that our day was not over and after we were done with lunch we would start prepping our oral presentations. They gave us 4 hours to look over the question, answer it, and then make visual displays. The question was 1 page long with 3 pages of potentially useful information. To summarize, we had a large plot of land that we needed to make sustainable. I focused on how to treat the soil o make plants grown again, another teammate looked at cost effective ways to water everything, and the others were brainstorming ideas to make our plan unique.
Time went by very fast and before we knew it there was 20 minutes left and we still needed to make our visual displays. When the timer went off I felt uneasy about having so little time to solve such a big problem. After we put everything away we had dinner and then free time. My Friends and I used this time to meet the other teams and relax. We met all of the other schools and decided to tell scary stories by the campfire. Suddenly I went rom 5 good friends to 20, I couldn’t stop smiling. When the counselors called lights out everyone was disappointed to leave all the fun we were having, especially me.
The next morning we woke up early and prepared to present our plan. After Breakfast each team was called up separately to present their ideas to the judges. My team presented last; we went up extremely nervous, and struggled to give the presentation. One team member forgot to introduce herself, another interrupted another team mate; thinking she was finished with her presentation, and I forgot half the information I was supposed to present. Each team gave their presentations to the three judges; after each team had a chance to present their ideas, the top three teams were announced.
I was disappointed not to hear my school name after all the work | had put in, but I understood that it was only my first year and I hoped we would place next year. The following summer I made a goal for myself to read at least one ecological article a day. I was very committed to my goal if I missed a day I would always catch up the next day or read two articles the day before. The next year at the competition all my hard work paid off and my team placed 2nd overall with a 1st place trophy in soils.
During my junior year of high school, I became Secretary of Ecology Club, my team placed 2nd that year. When my senior year came around it was my last year to compete and I was ready to win first place. I felt like I knew everything there was about ecology. In ecology jargon, I had felt like I had found my niche. The prize that year was a trip to Canada to help solve Lake Ontario’s invasive species problem and a $1000 dollar scholarship for each first place winner. I wanted this more than ever. When | arrived at the competition every other team wanted to win just as much as we did.
My team ended up placing 5th place overall for my last Envirothon. I wasn’t sad when we lost, i was proud of myself and my team. Ecology Club gave me a better understanding of the world around me. Ecology Club gave me an appreciation for the little things in life, such as soil. I made friendships that have lasted through high school and beyond. Ecology club taught me the value of friendship and helped shape the person I am today. I will be grateful forever for all the experiences and friendships I had in Ecology Club throughout the years.