Science ‘Classroom Without Walls’ Replete with Snapping Turtles, Snakes

Science ‘Classroom Without Walls’ Replete with Snapping Turtles, Snakes
"Snake! Snake!" an eighth-grade student shouts from the boardwalk as she crosses a bridge. A dozen of her classmates rush over, scouring for the snake in the water. It's a Friday in April, and these North Carolina students are making their weekly trip from the science classroom into the stormwater wetlands behind Elizabeth City Middle School's baseball and soccer fields.

This manmade stormwater wetland, and the natural waterway it flows into, are more than just habitat for snakes, turtles and tadpoles. It's where students can learn about the environment "in living color," says teacher Darrell Walker.

"It's a classroom without walls," Walker tells his students. "Can we get this from a textbook?" They shake their heads no.

The wetland flows into the Pasquotank River, the town's primary source of drinking water located just a mile or so from the schoolyard. Last year, a specialist with the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute determined that runoff from the building, parking lots and athletic fields were draining into the existing wetlands, carrying oil and other hazardous material into the delicate ecosystem. So Walker pledged to tackle the problem.

He and his students partnered with the institute to plant native grasses and other marsh plants to filter the water coming off of the school grounds and transform it into a new habitat.

By the water, Walker's students point out a cloud of tadpoles living in the new pond. A few reach in and scoop the swimming pollywogs…
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