Lincoln-Way East student's interest in ecology earns first place title in Chicago Area FFA Urban Forestry Event
Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Tuesday, September 27, twenty-five Chicago area students participated in the Chicago Area FFA Career Development Event at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.

Junior Anthony Gibson, who has had an interest in the outdoors since he was a child, represented Lincoln-Way East by earning the highest score in the competition with 248 points.

Five Chicago area schools participated, including Lincoln-Way East High School, Chicago High School for Agricultural Science, Neuqua Valley High School, Waubonsie Valley High School, and Lockport Township High School. Students were tasked with identifying various tree species, tree diseases, and urban forestry equipment. Each segment of the test took around twenty minutes and students spent approximately two hours at the event.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors—camping, hiking, and gardening,” says Gibson.

In his freshman year at Lincoln-Way North, Gibson’s biology teacher introduced him to prairie plants. Gibson’s interest became so strong that he worked with his father to dig out part of his yard so that he could fill it with sand to create a native garden. “A native garden is where you take plants that are native to the region and you incorporate them into a setting that will be ecologically beneficial to your yard,” he says. “I have one state-threatened species, one state endangered species, and several other rare and uncommon species in the sand prairie. In my prairie garden itself, on the side of my house, I have a leafy prairie clover plant. I actually grew this species in my yard, so I also have a federally endangered species in my own yard.”

Since growing endangered plants on his own property, Gibson’s interest has evolved further. This summer, he participated in a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) where he was able to work on public lands to eradicate invasive species.

When wildlife class became available to the Lincoln-Way curriculum this year, Gibson jumped at the chance. He says wildlife is “by far” his favorite class because he loves having a place where he can learn about ecology and experience it in a classroom setting.

“It’s phenomenal that our school district can offer this opportunity to students,” says his teacher, Patricia Nugent. “To be reaching for the development of the interest of our students like Anthony—that’s phenomenal that we’re able to do that. It’s wonderful that FCAE (Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education) and Joliet Junior College open up competitions like this for students who are interested in these areas.”

In terms of the future, Gibson says he hopes that his love of ecology will develop further into a career. “I want to do ecological restoration in the Midwestern United States, particularly in the Chicago area,” he says.