Students visit Invista Wetlands (video)

May 26, 2012 at 12:26 a.m.
Updated May 27, 2012 at 12:27 a.m.

Rose Campos searches for an alligator that appeared in the pond approximately 100 yards away.

Rose Campos searches for an alligator that appeared in the pond approximately 100 yards away.

Unable to take the binoculars from their eyes, fourth- graders stumbled around acres of wetland and into plenty of surprises from nature.

The classes from Schorlemmer Elementary were at the Invista Wetlands, a 53-acre living science laboratory outside the textile and chemical plant. In partnership with the Victoria school district, the wetlands have given tens of thousands of students a chance to glimpse at least 203 species of birds, 65 species of water dwelling (hydrophilic) plants, eight species of trees and 17 species of shrubs in the wetland.

"Whoa! Oh, sweet," Will McBrayer, 10, yelled in the middle of a conversation with his teacher.

He stopped in his tracks to follow his friends' fingers pointed toward the alligator peeking through the water ahead.

"It's a great hands-on opportunity here. They get to see nature and experience it firsthand," Will's teacher, Melissa Helfer said.

At the wetlands, students are more inquisitive and in-tune to learning about the ecosystem surrounding them, Helfer said. But their experience is also meeting state requirements for 40 percent hands-on activities in the science classroom. VISD's John Snyder, who's been teaching at the wetlands for 14 years, develops experiments and lesson plans based on what students are studying when they make their trek to Invista.

"You don't have to just sit in class, learning about nature," Mila Garza, 9, said. "You actually get to see it up close, and you learn more about it."

On this day's agenda: food chains.

"The sun goes to the plants, frogs eat the plants, the snakes eat the frogs and raccoons eat the snakes," Will explained after hiking around the wetland trail. "The energy goes from each one."

This group of students had already visited the wetlands this year, which allowed them ample opportunity to compare the fall environment versus the spring. Throughout their hourlong hike, students commented on how much more alive the wetlands were than when they'd seen them after a dry summer.

"It has a lot more water, a lot more birds," Will said. "The coolest part was when the alligator just went up and splashed down."



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