Beverly Vugteveen, forefront, who will begin the 2021-22 school year at Under the Magic Pine Tree, a preschool in Gardnerville this fall, examines various rocks and minerals Tuesday along with volunteer Patti McClelland, left, and with Karen Kimber, far left, of Flag View Intermediate School of Elko also participating, at the Nevada Mining Association’s 36th annual Northern Nevada Mineral Education workshop Tuesday in Carson City. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
Teachers Shaun Minor of Sutro Elementary School in Lyon County and Diana DiSalvio of Tony Alamo Elementary School in Clark County were busy trying to figure out the physical properties of popcorn salt and eyeshadow at their station Tuesday at Bethlehem Lutheran School. They went through each item referring to a colorful chart delineating qualities of hardness, color, streak, luster and fracture often determined by geologists or via laboratory equipment.
When Minor and DiSalvio go back to their classrooms in the fall, they want to be able to tell their students that the items they use in their daily lives are made up of so much more than they comprehend.
“Toothpaste comes from calcite,” DiSalvio said as an example. “We’re trying to decide (whether these things were) metallic, waxy, earthy. Kids would realize the things they have every day all over the place would come from things in the ground, not just that they go to the store and see them and that they’re non-renewable resources.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Nevada Mining Association hosted its 36th annual Northern Nevada Mineral Education workshop in Carson City. The training assists the Silver State’s K-12 teachers develop lesson plans on mining and the mining industry for classroom use.
About 40 instructors took part examining rocks and minerals on Tuesday, then took a mining tour to understand how mining works in action.
Educators from all parts of the state, including Elko, Gardnerville and Las Vegas, seeking to receive continuing credits attended, eager to help their own students learn about the earth sciences and mineral industry when they return to school in August.
Beverly Vugteveen, who just completed this school year at Bethlehem Lutheran and is moving to Gardnerville to start at Under the Magic Pine Tree, a local preschool and daycare center, for the 2021-22 year, enjoyed a part of her Tuesday examining certain rocks along with Jill Wilkinson and Karen Kimber, teaching partners from Flag View Intermediate School in Elko.
Vugteveen has been married to a geophysicist for 34 years, “so (science) is a part of our life,” she said.
“But I love to see the ways that we can help our students realize how much mining brings the comforts of life,” she said. “So often now, because we focus so much on our techno world and ecology, we forget that if we shut down all the mines, well, are you ready to give up your cell phones, your kitchen, essentially, all the pipes in your house, your wiring in your life? There are so many things we take for granted.”
She said she enjoys seeing her littlest students in pre-kindergarten react with “great surprise” at their young age as she teaches them about resources mined from the earth.
Tyre Gray, president of the NMA, said the workshops are an opportunity for the association to collaborate with educators and equip them with the right tools to teach students in the classroom. Gray, a former educator and attorney for law firm Fennemore Craig, took over from predecessor Dana Bennett just before the pandemic hit last year and said reevaluating its strategic plan became a priority. This included creating a better partnership between the mining industry and education.
“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is where education is focusing, and that’s where our future is,” Gray said. “It’s about being able to reduce our carbon footprint, and mining is the very first link in that supply chain.”
Mining, once Nevada’s largest industry and now its 12th largest, is expected to contribute more than $300 million in tax funding to the state’s educational system, Gray said, adding the Silver State is right to earmark these dollars as teachers have to continue to be recertified.
“Today, this is about making sure teachers have the resources they need to be in the classroom,” he said. “We always say mining is about careers, not jobs.”
The workshops themselves, normally drawing about 50 teachers and usually offered several times a year at several locations around the state, including Clark County, were limited to Carson City this time coming out of the pandemic. Gray said the NMA was conscious of social distancing guidelines per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So this week’s event only brought nearly 40 teachers, mostly K-12, with the Nevada Division of Minerals and University of Nevada, Reno personnel or volunteers assisting, Gray said.
Lucia Patterson, a geologist and field specialist with NDOM, offered various activities the teachers could offer in their classrooms such as a timeline half a football field long represent humans in inches with a script talking about the history of Earth. She also developed a Bingo game during the pandemic teaching about fossils that she said is effective for multiple age groups. She also said there are also a variety of videos to help make lessons digital as well.
“It always seems like there’s a kiddo in each classroom where (science) is their spark,” she said.
Patterson, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Chico State University and master’s in economic geology at the University of Nevada, Reno, went exploring for gold deposits for six years before coming to NDOM where she now makes maps and provides education and outreach.
“You just never know when you’re going to have that kid sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s what I want to do,’ ” she said.
While Tuesday was a chance to absorb those in-class lessons, Wednesday’s field day was an opportunity for the participants to get a live view of a mining site and how environmentally friendly the process is. Participants had an opportunity to explore Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum in Carson City at which visitors can view the facilities, walking trail and history of the facilities’ artisans, masonry and stone buildings.
Gray said allowing educators to appreciate mining helps them pass it on children with effectiveness.
“It’s not about gold or silver, it is about our children,” he said. “I have two children, 4 years and 8 months, and they are going to be in our school system … and everyone here is making sure the education is proper.”
He also said working in mining is “the best job in the world.”
“We get to play as adults we still get to see these huge Tonka trucks, right? But without actually getting close to seeing it’s hard to appreciate it. A lot of times from the environmental perspective, a lot of times people have a negative connotations around mining, but they’ll come onto a site. ... We’re making something come out cleaner than we even pulled it out.”
He added mining’s footprint in the state also is small, even though its impact is great and that it’s important to look toward the future as its population continues to grow.
Gray acknowledged the teachers, volunteers and his staff who came this week.
“I have a wonderful team and staff, and we want to thank NDOM who’s been a wonderful partner, thank all the teachers for taking time to come,” he said. “They could have done it online, could have done it anywhere else but their interest in mining is what really fuels us and what will continue to provide a workforce of tomorrow and our industry.”