A group of children, each wearing a blue hard hat, crouched at the edge of a puddle looking for unusual rocks inside of a 6-year-old pit mine operation Friday morning in Gainesville.
Other groups walked around large granite boulders asking equipment operators how they use tractors and dump trucks to move the huge rocks from place to place.
Five third-grade classes from Sardis Enrichment School took a field trip to the Hanson Aggregates, a rock quarry on Candler Road in Gainesville, to reinforce recent classroom lessons on rocks, gems and minerals.
Every year, the quarry opens to students and teachers from Sardis and Myers Elementary School, giving them a chance to see how lessons they learn in class carry over into the real world.
Bryan Cantrell, a third-grade student, picked up a small piece of granite and quartz and put it in a plastic bag. He said he found some interesting rocks at the bottom of the 150-foot deep pit. Cantrell plucked a shiny quartz specimen from a small pile and added it to his collection.
“I like exploring and looking for rocks,” Bryan said.
He was particularly interested in located his favorite kind of rock, metamorphic rocks, because they’re changing and going through a rock cycle.
Third-grade teacher Amanda Ayotte said the annual field trip is easily one of the students’ favorites because it gives them a chance to see some of the rocks they’ve learned about, and to see people who make a living mining rocks.
“They can get their hands in it and touch it,” Ayotte said. “We talk about things from the soil, to different kinds of rocks, igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary rocks. They get the chance to see some of the things we’ve talked about.”
After watching a brief video with a song about rock aggregates — set to the tune of the Village People’s hit, “YMCA” — students asked questions about the quarry and how rocks are mined. Many asked if there would be rubies and other precious gems among the stones.
Quality control manager Lec Overacker said they unfortunately wouldn’t find expensive gems among the granite stones but might get lucky and find some shiny pyrite, or “fool’s gold.”
Plant manager Mark Gooch told students about how the pit-mine operations usually last for about 50 years before it’s depleted and another has to be started.
An old pit-mine that was started in the 1950s has become a deep blue lake that supplies water for the plant’s operations.
He said that once the pit is used up, the company, like most others in the industry, will begin reclaiming the land.
“We’ll come back and plant trees and this will become a lake for wildlife,” Gooch said. “We reclaim everything that we do. Which means that one day, someone may want to buy the property, a developer could come in, and now what you’ll have is two very large lakes that will never go dry.”
Valerie Sandoval, vice president of the parent teacher organization at Sardis, attended the field trip with her daughter and said she was glad the students got the opportunity to learn about jobs they may want when they’re older.
“The truth of the matter is that some of these kids might grow up and work here,” Sandoval said. “A lot of them will stay and live in this area and it’s interesting to see what kind of opportunities are out there because they don’t know. They know they can be a fireman, a policeman or work at a chicken plant, but it’s nice to see what else is in town.”
Overacker said it’s always a pleasure when the students come to visit the quarry. He enjoys answering their questions and showing them around the quarry.
“These are our neighbors so we want to show the community and do our part to help any way we can,” Overacker said.