Capital Aggregates Takes A Strategic Approach To School Partnerships With Its Operations.
By Therese Dunphy
A Missouri-based company is putting a new spin on its educational outreach program and getting positive feedback from its school partners. The program, Kids Rock, is run by Capital Aggregates, which includes Capital Materials, Capital Quarries and Capital Sand.
The company approaches the program in a deliberate manner, with a focus on schools near its urban operations. “We’re trying to be a little strategic about it,” said Ericka Baxter, operations manager, Capital Materials. “We really try to focus on some of those key areas with people who are interacting in and around the mine all the time,” she added.
While the outreach program is an operational expense, it’s an important one. “These programs are critical to the life of our industry,” Baxter explained. “It’s really trying to help that next generation understand the importance of what we’re doing.”
Teaching Children Well
In Missouri, students study geology, rocks and minerals in the fourth grade, so those are the students the program focuses on; it provides a natural segue to discussions of aggregates production. Katie Pierce, a former teacher who is now in sand sales at Capital, runs the program. She brings a teacher perspective to how it is run and what best engages young students. In addition, a team of operations and sales managers review what works well and how to improve it each year.
Kids Rock is a two-day event. Capital Aggregates staff visit a school and explain what aggregates are, how they are used, and why they are important. Capital-branded t-shirts are then distributed to the students, who wear them the following day for a field trip to see a working operation and participate in a treasure hunt.
On average, three to four classes of fourth graders visit a site at one time. Safety is a top priority for the company, so the treasure hunt is designed to ensure that students are contained.
Three sides of the area are surrounded by boulders while tables and parked buses keep the students in the proper area. “We talk a lot about safety in the quarries,” Baxter noted, “and they have very specific safety rules.”
During the treasure hunt, students search for their own rocks. The operations use their own materials, but also pull rock from the company’s other quarries and include quartz and other “treasures.”
Planning for the Future
As the students travel to and from the quarry, staff members ride the buses with them. “We try to get as many of our guys in the field involved as possible,” Baxter said. “Typically, they’ll hop on the bus and do the tours, but I think their favorite part is keeping some of the fancy sparkling rocks in their pockets and dropping them around the kids who aren’t finding as many of the nice ones.”
The staff also crushes some of the fancier crystals by hand or by driving over them with a loader tire. In preparation for 2024 tours, Capital Aggregates is considering running some of the material through the crusher to create a stash for the entire season.
Baxter often hops on buses during Ozark tours. She talks about the different jobs available for all different skill levels and stresses the importance of the trades. She tells them: “If you want to work inside, we’ve got a job for you. If you want to work with your hands, we’ve got a job for you. If you want to work with your hands and your brain, we’ve got a job for you.” The goal, she said, is to help them see that there are so many paths in the industry that can lead to a fantastic career. In fact, when a teacher inquired about salaries for haul truck drivers, Baxter’s response led the teacher to inquire, “Are you hiring?”
The kids’ enthusiasm shows as they go through the treasure hunt, but they aren’t the only ones who see the magic. “I love having kids in our quarry because what we do is so cool,” Baxter said. “I think you can forget that because you’re used to it, so it’s great to see our world through a kid’s eyes. The kids would break their bags because they have so many rocks in them. That love for our natural resources is so cool!”
As part of its two-day Kids Rock school partnership program, Capital Aggregates brings classrooms to its sites to see a quarry and asphalt plant and to participate in a treasure hunt for various stones.
Therese Dunphy has covered the aggregates industry for nearly 30 years, while also serving multiple roles as a public official. As the owner of Stone Age Communications, she provides communications consulting services to help aggregate producers build stronger relationships within the communities they serve. She can be reached at [email protected].