The reaction to the Gold King Mine spill has mostly involved adults – politicians, government agencies, concerned community members and Native American tribal leadership.
But for Animas High School’s faculty, the spill was chock-full of teachable moments, so educators stepped out of their classrooms to take students to Silverton.
The juniors were split into three rotating groups that looked at the spill through a variety of lenses. Humanities teacher Ashley Carruth and chemistry teacher Steve Smith took about 70 juniors, while Dave Heerschap accompanied his 15-student geology class.
“(San Juan County Commissioner) Scott Fetchenhier spoke with students to provide an overview of the history of the Animas Stakeholders Group,” Carruth said, “mining in Silverton, the health of Cement Creek and the Animas River.”
A roundtable with Silverton High School students was a particular eye-opener, she said.
“That was super powerful as students had several ‘ah-ha’ moments.” Carruth said. “One of my students told me afterward, ‘I just thought everyone felt the same way I did about the Animas River, and that it was obvious we need the Superfund.’”
For the Silverton students, she said, they got a better understanding of how important the Animas is to people in Durango.
“For many of them, the orange in the creeks and streams around Silverton are par for the course,” Carruth said.
Smith used the trip as the beginning of a semester’s worth of activities centered on evaluating how the overall health of the Animas is affected by its tributaries.
He worked with students to collect water samples from different areas in the watershed so they would have their own samples for lab testing. The students also needed to understand the sampling process before they take a look at the data resulting from professional testing.
The students started their measuring in the field, establishing initial temperature, pH and electricity conductance reference points.
The juniors also viewed the Red and Bonita Mine sites and the Gold King from a distance. They got a good look at the runoff, tailing ponds and Environmental Protection Agency’s work crew in action, Smith said.
The geology students, meanwhile, toured the Old Hundred Mine and visited the Mayflower Mine to learn about metal extraction methods, going on to collect a plethora of mineral specimens.
“This was our first chance to peer into the Silverton caldera and to understand this complex-ring, fault-riddled area,” Heerschap said.