Summit County students learn a thing or two about mine pollution |

Summit County students learn a thing or two about mine pollution

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Summit Daily/Mark Fox

FRISCO – Learning isn’t always a matter of the right answer versus the wrong answer.

Some problems can only be solved by considering those who have the most to gain or lose, and students at Summit Middle School learned this lesson through a partnership program with Keystone Science School.

A group of 60 eighth graders from honors science classes at SMS participated in Keystone Science School’s Education in Action program this semester. The event culminated with a presentation to parents, teachers, fellow students and community members at the school’s auditorium Tuesday morning.

The program aims to engage students in the process of dealing with a socio-environmental issue from varying points of view. In this instance, students learned about mining and water quality issues surrounding the Pennsylvania Mine and the Snake River Watershed. The mine is a known pollution emitter near Montezuma through which water flows and becomes contaminated with zinc and other heavy metals before running

“Toxins from the mine are seeping into the water, and if it doesn’t get cleaned, it could really harm the environment and the people who live there,” student Rachel Fitch said.

After learning about the issue, students were accompanied by Keystone Science School educators to local bodies of water such as French Creek, Miner’s Creek and Tiger Dredge to take water samples. Students tested the samples for heavy metals or abnormal pH levels and compared their results to samples tested by Colorado Mountain College. Field work proved to be the students’ favorite part of the program.

“Going out and testing the water was the best part,” said SMS student Elle Dice. “It was kind of cold, but it was fun.”

After reviewing the results, students played the parts of stakeholders to the Pennsylvania Mine situation. Roles included county commissioners, biologists, environmental protection agency representatives and Montezuma residents, among others. In a mock town hall meeting, the students recommended a solution based on the perceived motivation of their stakeholder role.

The students widely agreed that bioremediation – the use of natural filtration systems to absorb heavy metals – was the best solution to the problem. Next spring some of the students will return to the creeks from which the samples were taken to plant willow seeds and enact other forms of bioremediation to the affected water flows.

The program rounded out as Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch made a presentation on other areas in Summit County that have been affected by abandoned mining facilities.

The Education in Action program started without a name last year, as Keystone Science School educators taught students about the pine beetle epidemic in a similar format. The popularity of the program spawned Education in Action.

The program doesn’t intend to direct students toward a “correct” answer to a particular issue, said Keystone Science School programs and outreach director Dave Miller. Instead it aims to entice students to learn about and take action on issues affecting their community.

“A big focus of ours is to empower students and get them excited about whatever their interests are,” said Miller.

Though the program adds some extra work for teachers, the experience for the students makes it worthwhile.

“It brought a real-world, Summit County issue into the classroom,” said science teacher Heidi Curriaza. “We will be learning about ecology this year, so it was very topical.”

For more information about the Keystone Science School and the Education in Action program, visit or e-mail Miller at

SDN reporter Drew Andersen can be contacted at (970) 668-4633 or

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