Sixty sixth-grade students gathered beneath the cold, dripping walls of the Maggie Kathleen mine Friday morning as 37-year mining veteran Jerry Harmon gave them a firsthand introduction to underground hard-rock mining.
The children learned about open pit mining, dredging, hydraulic mining and sluicing. They learned about the history of the Alaska-Juneau gold mine - how it was in operation from 1915 to 1921, how and why it was closed, and equipment needed to run it. They received "gold" coins for correctly answering questions. They also asked quite a few questions themselves.
And that was just Friday.
The tour was the culmination of a week in education about careers in the mining industry. Floyd Dryden Middle School teacher Adriana Rodriguez organized the event for her and team teacher Robert Casperson's students.
The idea for the career week began when Rodriguez was accepted into an Alaska Process Industries Career Consortium externship program, spending 10 days in Coeur Alaska's Kensington gold mine. She learned about different kids of jobs there, as well as the education and training needed for them.
She brought that back to her students last week.
"We're really just kind of trying to show the kids some other career opportunities - the type of training they need, and other kinds of options," said Rodriguez. "The reality is that not all kids are college-bound."
Despite that, education was a definite emphasis, with Rodriguez and Casperson tying in elements of math, science and language arts to the presentations. Presenters also emphasized education's importance.
"You've got to stay in school and graduate from high school," Harmon said during the tour, mentioning that mining has changed over the years. For example, miners now make regular use of computers.
"We like to have you go on to college and get an education," Harmon said.
Meg Day, human resources manager for Coeur Alaska, gave the students an overview of jobs in the mining industry and explained how education will prepare them for jobs in the future.
"Exposing students at an earlier age to career opportunities allows them to focus on a career path in high school that would prepare them for college or vocational education," Day said. "They also learn why it is important to stay in school and complete their education."
In nearly every occupation, Coeur employees use math and science principles learned in the classroom, Day said.
During the week, students heard from other Coeur employees about water treatment, avalanche safety and mine rescue, and environmental protection.
Julia Fontana, 11, said she thinks some of her classmates might now be interested in mining.
"It seems like a really cool job," she said.
Rodriguez said her goal is to have two career weeks a year.
Juneau Empire reporter Kim Andree contributed to this article.