Nevada is the third largest producer of gold in the world and with gold prices at the highest level in almost 30 years miners are ramping up production. Las Vegans get the basics of what that means at an early age. The city is home to the nation's only School of Mines that offers field trips for children. Ky Plaskon followed the children through the school.
PLASKON: On a recent morning temperatures were already above the century mark in downtown Henderson at a replica of an old mining town. Under the shade of a blue tarp children stand above a trough of water and get directions on how to pan for flecks of gold.
GUIDE: Swirl and dump . . . never give up.
PLASKON: It's the McCaw School of Mines.. Here, mining looks like a lot of fun when these 2nd graders dawn hard hats and headlamps as they go into a simulated underground mine.
NIEL: The next thing we do is go into the active blasting area. This is where it is dark and I would like everyone to turn their lights on so that we can see better back in here.
PLASKON: Manikins cackle as the children walk through the mine.
MANICAN: HA HA HA HA HA
CHILD: Are you dead sir?
MANICAN: Ha ha ha ha
CHILD: AAAH. There is nothing scary about you!
NIEL: He snuck up on you did he?
NIEL: Okay everybody, get on.
CHILD: Don't hurt me.
CHILD2: Help me lord help me.
PLASKON: They ride in a simulated mining elevator
PLASKON: A tour guide introduces them to mining products they used every day.
GUIDE: It's also used in some food processing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics in the food processing, it helps cut down on acids, same in ant-acids, same in toothpaste, kitty litter, medicines we take, it is used in a lot of things.
PLASKON: But most of the hands-on experience for the children at the McCaw School of Mines covers small operations. It doesn't represent mining today admits tour guide John Niel.
NIEL: Ya, they have so much of this big earth moving equipment that they just go in and tear the whole mountain out, volume rather than this kind of equipment here. We kind of show them the old way.
PLASKON: The school uses other tools to represent mining today.
VIDEO: I was surprised to see both men and women working in mines.
PLASKON: They watch a video hosted by children about explosives in modern mines.
VIDEO: Lets watch. . . . Ten nine eight
CHILD1: Three two one,
CHILD2: blast off . . . boom!
CHILD3: I would hate to be in there.
CHILD4: You would be blown up all over the place.
PLASKON: The explosions are shown over and over.
VIDEO: Wow, they sure made short work of that!
PLASKON: After the video they turn to a dollhouse where a guide again points out how mined products are used at home. Then to a 3-dimentional display of a modern mine. He describes a machine and how it cuts through the earth.
GUIDE: It is called a continuous mining machine.
PLASKON: The school was started by a couple of teachers in the 90's who's students couldn't grasp the concept of going underground to find bits of valuable materials. Dorothy Webb, the school's tour coordinator says they asked kids to write letters for funding.
WEBB: One child wrote a letter and said 'Dear Rich Person, would you give us some of your money.' That rich friend sent us 15-thousand dollars to get started.
PLASKON: After 8 years of operation, mining companies have donated more than 2 million dollars to the school. The companies cover the school's annual operating costs of 120-thousand dollars in just one evening of silent auctions. For the money the companies get positive exposure to 5-thousand students a year. The school's guides tell the children who paid for the field trip numerous times on the tour.
ANDERSON: That's companies that support this mine that pay money to have their name to support the building. That is why you came in a tour bus and this trip here today is free. We pay for your bus and it is free for your school.
Guide Dale Anderson takes the children inside one of the buildings, and again explains how important mining is to their lives. Showing them products, like CDs, computer hardware, and fire-fighting equipment.
ANDERSON: I would like to ask you one question though. If there was not a mine in the world today how would you get back to school? You would have to walk wouldn't you? There would be no bus. If you got home tonight, there would be no TV, no bicycle, mother is going to cook for you, there is no stove. Momma would have to go into the back yard and light a wood fire wouldn't she. So you are going to see a sign later on, if it can't be grown, it has to be mined. And so you pick up something and say can this be grown.
PLASKON: Anderson also gives the students a lecture about the dangers of Nevada's 50-thousand abandoned mines. Then, how mining is a more responsible industry today.
GUIDE: When they are all done with their mining they have to do what they call reclamation. They have to put it back the way it was. They are going to grade it all. That is what they are doing they are lowing the land so that animals can use it.
STEIN: They are amazed about some of the products that they get from the rocks.
PLASKON: Second Grade Teacher Sima Stein, says by the end, her students on this tour have a pretty good idea of the concept of mining. But she'll have to supplement the education.
STEIN: Well I am going to go back and we are gonna do the environment, you know, how to protect the environment. You know how important it is to take care of our natural resources and that part we will do when we get back. I have material ready. It is that our natural resources are important to protect for the next generation.
PLASKON: The environmental issues in mining are missing she says at the McCaw school of mines. Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
McCaw School of Mines
Gordon McCaw Elementary School
57 Lynn Lane
Henderson, NV 89015