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FARMINGTON — A workshop designed to enhance middle and high school teachers' understanding about coal started Monday at the San Juan College School of Energy.

John Grubb, professor of practice and mining engineering at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, opened the workshop with a presentation about the history of mining.

Grubb's focus was on Navajo Mine, an open-pit mine that has been operating since 1963 on the Navajo Nation to supply coal to the Four Corners Power Plant.

The tribe purchased the mine from BHP Billiton in 2013. The acquisition sustained operations at the mine and power plant and prevented the loss of jobs and tax revenue, Grubb said.

Providing this type of information, and insight to the benefits of coal, were among the purposes of the three-day workshop.

Participants will also learn about coal's relation to economics, careers, mining processes, environmental regulations and reclamation.

The workshop was a collaboration between San Juan College and Navajo Transitional Energy Co., as well as Bisti Fuels Co. and Arizona Public Service Co.

Lorenzo Reyes Jr., director for the Center for Workforce Development at the college, said organizers hope teachers use the information in lessons to students about the role fossil fuels have in communities.

The group will tour Navajo Mine on Tuesday and Four Corners Power Plant on Wednesday. Twelve teachers were selected from middle and high schools from the region.

Nathan Tohtsoni, education coordinator for NTEC, said the mine and power plant tours will help the teachers in understanding the mining process and how coal is used to produce energy.

Each teacher was chosen based on answers to essay questions, and are from communities that have mining activity whether historically or actively, Tohtsoni said.

Elvira Sombrero will start teaching eighth-grade science at Piñon Middle School in Piñon, Arizona.

The community is located on Black Mesa, where Kayenta Mine extracts coal to supply the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona.

"Our students, even though we're on Black Mesa, they hardly know anything about it," Sombrero said, adding she plans to integrate lessons from the workshop to increase student awareness.

Another reason she attended was to gather ideas to grow participants in the school's science, technology, engineering and math club.

Melcah Leosala is a sixth-grade Earth science teacher at Chief Manuelito Middle School in Gallup.

Leosala said many of her students are Navajo and she wants them to understand the benefits of power plants in terms of career opportunities and economics.

To share that message, Leosala said she has to learn about it first.

"I want my students to know how these fossil fuels formed and how to use this," she said.

The group included teachers from Piedra Vista High School, Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School, Kirtland Central High School, Newcomb Middle School, Gallup High School, Gallup Middle School, Crownpoint High School and Thoreau High School.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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