AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — It is 10:30 on a Friday night. Most students at Grand River Academy are tucked away in their dorm rooms, settling down to sleep or watching movies on their computers. For the six students who participated in the annual Tree ID competition, it was less than a quiet night. Katy Studer, biology teacher and adviser for the competition at Grand River Academy, excitedly roused the students out of their sleep with knocking on bedroom doors and yelling, “First place! We got first place!” Many high fives and hugs were handed out in the blur of elation and exhaustion. This was the second time Grand River Academy has won first place in this competition, and the fourth time the academy team placed in the top three.
The competition took place four days earlier on Sept. 23. Six teams from Lakeside High School, Ashtabula County Technical and Career Campus, Geneva and Pymatuning Valley high schools gathered in the Ashtabula River Gulf near the Smolen Covered Bridge. The goal has remained the same over the past 12 years, educate the area’s youth about the beauty and diversity of the Ashtabula Gulf. Each year the students have two hours to correctly identify 25 to 31 trees. Grand River Academy’s team included captain Isaac Seger-Brown, Elpidio Amoussou, Andrew Abdelmessih and Ben Triulzi, class of 2014; and Jon Butler and Scott Sender, class of 2015.
Amoussou said, “Tree Identification was a great experience, it was educational, it was fun to be out in nature in the serene peace and quiet instead of the hustle and bustle of boarding school, but most importantly it was amazing being able to work with the team and as a team to accomplish something for ourselves, the school and simultaneously helping the community. It was a blast.”
His statement summed up how the team felt following the competition. It was a daunting task and many of the members felt they had difficulty. If you were to ask anyone on the team later that Monday how they did, the answer would have been very different than the results. There are so many trees and primal beauty in the Gulf it was easy to be overwhelmed, and the looming clock running slowly down to 0 enhanced the pressure, the team was able to correctly identify 23 of the 31 trees.
That Friday night when Katy Studer knocked on the doors yelling “We did it,” everything came together. The competition was not just about winning, though winning is great, but for the Grand River Academy Tree Identification Team working with everyone involved was educational and uplifting. Winning first place encourages other students to try to be a part of the Tree ID team next year, or even Botany Club in the spring. Being part of the competition allows GRA students to extend their community involvement beyond the corner of Routes 45 and 307. Winning the competition this year allows GRA students to feel even more pride in their educational experiences in Ashtabula County.