GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - They identified plants, put snakes around their neck and did some bird watching. Hundreds of sixth graders from the Pascagoula school district spent the day Thursday "walking the wetlands."
"My Two Boots" is the name of the long-running environmental education program. Curious youngsters spent the day with their boots in the wetlands, right outside Gautier High School.
"This is an albino corn snake. What color eyes does it have?" asked the teacher, as some kids squirmed at the sight of the strange looking snake.
If the white snake didn't get the kids' attention, the three legged alligator did.
While her classmates cringed, Olivia Beckham put the snake around her neck.
"No, I'm not scared of snakes," she calmly said.
For those squeamish with snakes, bird watching provided a safer environmental endeavor.
"Close your right eye and adjust the left," a high school student instructed the sixth grade audience.
Kids pointed their binoculars toward the nearby woods, looking for birds.
"Any stripes or anything?" one student asked her partner.
"You're touching an endangered species of turtle," said the naturalist, as he let kids touch the baby turtle.
Sixth graders learned the habits of the yellow blotched sawback.
"They like to sun bathe. That's called basking. They crawl up on a snag, a log or a limb that sticks out of the water, and take a sun bath," said the adult instructor.
"It's a great experience. They learn so many things about the wetlands. Why they're important, how they can protect them. They learn about the animals that live there, the plants that grow there. It's a great experience for them," said teacher Sybil Wilner.
"And these plants are plants that eat animals. These are insectivorous plants," said the instructor, as she showed the kids a pitcher plant.
While one group learned about pitcher plants and other wetlands vegetation, others learned it's not that easy throwing the cast net.
Brian Wright was the Colmer Middle School student showing his classmates how to throw the net.
And what's the hardest part?
"Like kind of twirling it around your shoulder to get it down to throw it. That's the hardest part of all," said the young instructor.
Teachers say sixth grade is the perfect time to spark an interest in nature and the environment. And what better than "hands on" learning to keep the kids curious.
"We get to hold snakes and hold turtles and see alligators," said Nicholas Martin, a sixth grader at Trent Lott Academy.
Teacher, Sybil Wilner, helped organize the first "wetlands walk" some eight years ago. What started as a classroom project quickly grew into a program that includes sixth graders from throughout the district, plus students from Resurrection and Bethel Academy.