A small group of children were following Amber Fadok and Ashley Early behind Walker Middle School Thursday morning when the winding trail opened up to a large field of sawgrass around Horse Lake.
"Wow, look at this!" said Christina Singh, a fourth-grader at Citrus Park Elementary.
The tour was their reward for having taken Fadok's and Early's wetlands class, a short course in why swamps purify water entering lakes and streams. On a day when the adults stepped back and let the kids take over, Fadok and Early, both in seventh grade at Walker Middle, were two of the science-savvy students picked to teach the younger ones about the local environment.
For much of the morning, about 35 Citrus Park children shuttled between five study areas as the Walker group spread knowledge they gained while preparing for last year's environmental showcase. So while Fadok and Early explained the workings of wetlands, others talked about frogs, pond bugs, lake viability and the intricacies of watersheds.
The idea developed from conversations between Walker science director Jane Gucciardo and Citrus Park teacher Tricia Treaster. Both liked the idea of letting students show off what they knew.
"These kids had to do this all outside the classroom . . . and to gear it down to a fourth-grade level," Gucciardo said of the Walker students. "To me, it's a great example of service learning."
Next month, Gucciardo's students will ride to Wilson Middle School in south Tampa to teach students there about lake life. The Wilson students will return the favor later when they visit Walker to discuss the environment around Tampa Bay.
In the watershed class, Manuel Molina stood by a model that showed water flowing inland through a channel. They had talked about pollution and the three water cycles _ precipitation, condensation and evaporation.
Molina said he enjoyed having a younger teacher for a day.
"It's kind of fun," he said.
In a clearing underneath cypress and pine trees, a typical wetland environment, Chelsea Tucker, 14, Marimar Rivera-Cruz, 13, and Ashley Shumate, 14, taught students how to identify Florida frogs.
To imitate the sound of a Southern Chorus Frog, they had the kids run their fingernails along the length of a comb. They also used marbles, squeak toys and balloons, which students rubbed with wet fingertips to recreated the call of a Southern Leopard Frog.
A test came later.
Asked if their younger counterparts were paying attention, eighth-grader Marc Quiles smiled and said, "Some of them."
Some were simply happy to be outside.
Out by the shore, fourth-grader Shay Patterson, dunked a long-handled net into the lake looking for insects. Instead, he and the others got more fish than bugs.
But the best part, he said, was "That I get to get my hands dirty because my mom never lets me."