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Outdoor science lab in Red Bank

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On Thursday local students enjoyed sites and smells you don't typically find in these parts--those of the wetlands. A business owner in Red Bank turned the back section of his property into an ecosystem. Now students are using it to learn about animals and plants that thrive in that type of environment.

The wetland is behind the Four Square business center on Mountain Creek Road. Its original purpose was to clean runoff from the parking lot, buildings, and the road, but it's become a virtual outdoor lab for a nearby school.

Mary Beth Sutton, a former science teacher-turned-environmental educator, prepares a group of students at Skyuka Hall for an expedition of sorts. The small school has a wetland area right in its back yard where the children have been searching for any signs of life.

"They found one frog," says Sutton.

That was early this year when the wetland was new. It's teeming with life today.

"Thousands of tadpoles. They already found fish. They started finding dragon flies," adds Sutton.

Some raccoons, deer, and turtles have been spotted, too, and the plant life has blossomed.

"We didn't bring any critters in," explains Sutton. "It was just nature populating this wetland."

The students record what they find in order to learn about ecology and keep track of any changes. They also help keep the wetland and nearby Mountain Creek clean.

"We're learning how to prevent pollution in the world," says Charlie Smith, a sixth-grader at Skyuka.

He enjoys exploring in the living-learning outdoor laboratory.

"I found 16 fish and a lot of tadpoles and one Monarch," adds Smith.

He's even thinking about a career in environmentalism down the road.

Sutton says giving the children hands-on experiences they won't forget helps them when they return to their classrooms. She loves to see the childrens' "contagious enthusiasm".

"Looking at the algae and going EW, it feels like slime or snot, and then going LOOK, there's a dragon fly larvae in there," Sutton says.

Plus, the students can get a little dirty all in the name of fun and education.

"We want to get them more excited about science," adds Sutton.

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