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Young Achievers are “Earth Angels”

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BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. --For nearly a half century American school kids have been getting lessons on protecting the Earth and using our natural resources wisely. A team of students from Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, MO has reached the pinnacle of that environmental education. The FOX 4 Young Achievers of the Week are on top of world in learning how to be great stewards of our world.

An afternoon trek into Burr Oak Woods State Conservation Area outside Blue Springs, Mo. is much more than just a walk in the park for six teenagers and their adult mentor.

"You look around and see Burr Oak Woods and you kind of want to maintain it," says high school junior Ryan Hrinya. "And help manage it and keep places like this as beautiful as they are now and maybe expand that and help us humans live in a better way with our environment."

This forest is their classroom for learning environmental science.

"And when you look around here," says high school senior Hosain Ghassemi. "The knowledge you have can be applied almost immediately which is something you don't really get out of a textbook every day."

Ryan and Hosain and these other students from Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, MO have spent many days in these woods, gaining intimate, thorough knowledge of plants, animals and minerals, water, air and soil and on how humans have affected them in positive and negative ways. They put all that knowledge together for a high-powered summer competition for U.S. and Canadian high school students called the Canon Envirothon.

"Envirothon is a program that really works to make sure that students and the future generations understand the importance of the environment and different current issues and then just the basics of environmental science," says senior Jeffrey Rubel.

These Pembroke Hill students have learned very well. Under the direction of their Envirothon coach, SueAnn Wright, the Pembroke Hill team took the title in the 2012 North American Canon Envirothon, besting teams from 44 states and 10 from Canada.

"This is an extraordinary team of students," says Wright. "They worked really hard. They each had their area of expertise and they decided they were going to own it and they did. (It's) the ability to formulate answers, to think critically, put things together, follow the 'so what?' of their knowledge, ask the follow-up question, good training for the rest of their lives."

"I think in addition to the outstanding perseverance and dedication we have toward Envirothon," says junior Vincent Czerwinski, the team alternate. "One of the most important parts of our team is our coach, Mrs. Wright. Without her, none of this would have been possible. She is in charge of organizing so many other resource experts to help us along the way and get better understanding of all the resource areas."

The cornerstone of Envirothon is challenging the teams to come up with a solution to a significant issue facing the environment. This year they all had to tackle storm water management.

"And it sounds really boring to anyone else," says senior Wanda Czerwinski. "It's about asphalt, permeable pavers, sidewalks, parking lots, things that people don't want to think about."

But these blossoming experts on the environment gave it a whole lot of thought. And in eight hours of focused work and analysis, they came up with the top Envirothon oral presentation with solutions that two townships in Pennsylvania now actually will use to deal with their storm water runoff problems.

"It's all a balancing act," says senior Riley Sloan. "The social, economic and political factors that all go into it because when it comes down to it, everybody's a stakeholder in the environment and preserving our planet."

And the world's youth, who have the biggest stake in it of anyone, now have these dedicated teenagers as their champions in protecting and preserving the planet for all of us.

"I'm more aware of these environmental issues," says Jeffrey Rubel. "It's hard for me not to walk past a stream and consider the environment and where it's running through and what's going on with it."

These "earth angels" are encouraging other schools and students to do Envirothon. You can get information on how to get involved and watch the Pembroke Hill team do it's outstanding oral presentation at the Envirothon website,

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.

Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.

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