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Learning About the Past, Present, and Future of Coal Mining

By: Pattie Stivender

Over one-hundred students, teachers, and parents from Central Kentucky schools visited Harlan County to learn about Kentucky’s main energy source: coal.  The trip was the culmination of six months of studying about energy resources and their differing environmental impacts.

The fourth-grade students travelled around Benham and Lynch, two communities that have been significantly influenced by coal, to learn more about Kentucky’s mining history.  The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, located in the former coal camp town of Benham, offered students the opportunity to experience the conditions of mining in their mock coal mine.  The tour, led by a retired miner, detailed the history of mining in the area.  Portal 31 Mine tour in Lynch presented a unique opportunity to tour an actual coal mine and learn about the process of mining.  While touring the church, train depot, and enjoying cocoa at the Lamp House Coffee Shop students learned about the many nationalities that came together to mine in the area during its heyday.  It’s hard to imagine these small towns teaming with over 10,000 people in each community.  As coal jobs left so did the majority of the population.  Our group toured a mushroom farm located in the old coal bath house.  Just one of the many business enterprises now sprouting in the area.

“This type of learning experience is extraordinary! Often times these types of learning opportunities are
what impact student learning in a way that is unmatchable. My energy team students will return to school
and use their experience to teach the entire school what they have learned. They will become the
instructors to help educate an entire school on the importance of conservation of resources, recycling,
reducing the amount of damage(human footprint) we leave behind on our planet, as well as the history of
coal, and the uses of coal. This fieldtrip/program allows students to not only learn about energy
resources, alternative energy resources, environmental issues, but also empowers them to become
active in protecting our environments as well. I hope this opportunity will be possible for many more
students!”

-Emily Manier (Crab Orchard Elementary)

The highlight of the trip was the presentation from Kentucky author Mary Knight.  As KEY team members, students received a copy of Ms. Knight’s book Saving Wonder and participated in book discussions throughout the year with Bluegrass Greensource educators.  As students discussed the life of Curly Hines and his love of the natural beauty of Eastern Kentucky, they also examined the trials and benefits of coal mining.  Ms. Knight engaged the students in a touching conversation about coal, jobs, the environment, and the local people who cherish the area.

“This program is so rich in experiential learning. The students truly love the program, from the lessons and
book study with Mr. Danny to the field trip, they are honored to be a part of it all. It is amazing that you are
able to have Mary Knight come speak to the kids—what an opportunity! I am so thrilled to be a part of the
program, as I believe it offers invaluable instruction across many content areas and using many skills
(critical thinking science, history, social studies, social skills, language arts, and careers). It delights me to
see the kids engaged in listening to oral history from wonderful people who serve as living encyclopedias
(and not to be staring at their phones). As a Kentuckian (a native eastern Kentuckian at that), I’m truly
proud of the work the people in Harlan County are doing to try to keep their towns alive and to ultimately
thrive as they adapt, from their tourism to agribusiness. I want your program and the work of the people in
Benham and Lynch to gain as much notoriety as possible so that it continues indefinitely. I also wish I
could take more students from my school. It’s also worth mentioning that your program does a fabulous
job of presenting information from a variety of sources with respect, without obvious bias, and returning
responsibility to the students to consider the complex issues related to energy production in Kentucky,
and its use nationwide.”

– Bianca Bargo (Southside Elementary)

Now that the students have returned, they are busy preparing presentations about their energy studies and trip to Harlan County.  Each team, spanning all across Central Kentucky, will share this information with their classmates to further their understanding of this polarizing topic. 

Reflecting on the trip: Jack from Kit Carson

One thought on “Learning About the Past, Present, and Future of Coal Mining

  1. Jack is an amazing boy. He is obviously thoughtful, engaged, intelligent and and excited to learn. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring letter providing hope for our future

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