Gulfport Classroom Looks Like A Zoo

Terese Marsland reaches into a tank and pulls out a four-legged creature. She said, "This is Arge, and I've had her going on two years."

It's hard to tell who's more afraid, the Tegus lizard or the sixth graders at Gulfport Central Middle School.

Marsland said, "She's not dangerous, but you have to remember, if it has a mouth, it will bite if it feels threatened."

Marsland raises lizards, iguanas, turtles and other wildlife right in her classroom to share her passion for animals with children.

Marsland said, "We use them for everything, habitats, biomes, genetics. I find I can get more through a child by handing them a lizard and saying tell me what you see? How does it feel? What does it smell like?"

Sixth Grader Myraches Hawthorne said, "When I saw the animals, I really felt real scared."

Marsland believes having the live animals around helps children overcome their fears of creatures they've never seen before, like snakes.

Jessica Brown looks squeamish as she meets Rossa, a Red Tail Boa Constrictor.

Jessica said, "I was scared because I read bad things about it, like if you don't hold it right, it will bite you."

The star of the class is a 50-pound Boa that stretches more than 13 feet long.

Myraches said, "First, I felt jumpy and scared because of books and stuff I read about snakes, and iguanas and stuff. But now, I feel really alive to the animals."

Ashley LaFontaine said, "The iguanias were rough, but the snakes were soft. It was cool."

Marsland said, "A lot of the people I talk to think I'm nuts for having all this. But I say, you've never been in my class and seeing these children light up."

Marsland plans to introduce other animals to her class later this year, including a nine-foot Burmese Python, a chameleon, and a Sugar Glyder, which looks like a flying squirrel.