May 28, 2009 · The president of the West Virginia Coal Association visited St. Francis Elementary school in Beckley.

Raney spoke with third graders as part of a Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary project called Coal in the Classroom. St. Francis was the first school to adopt the curriculum but it’s expected to expand to the public school system this fall.

The fifth and final Coal in the Classroom session wrapped up on Wednesday.

Now, Morgan Hylton says she has a better understanding of what her dad does for a living.

“My dad is an above ground miner,” Hylton said. “Learn they burn coal to make electricity if we didn’t have it we wouldn’t be able to have a lot of stuff.”

Gage Blankenship says he also learned something about his family. He says his dad, uncle and grandfather work for the coal industry.

“It’s fun to learn about what they do,” Blankenship said.

For the past five weeks, the children have heard 1-hour presentations on the geographical location of coal in the US, surface mining, underground mining, and electricity.

Yesterday, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney talked about the jobs coal provides to state residents.

“They had an intense interest in everything that was going on,” Raney said.

“They were remarkably knowledgable about all aspects of the coal industry and how really important it is to their everyday life and how important electricity is.”

In the hallway after he finished speaking with the kids, Raney criticized the environmental activists and their efforts to stop mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. Last weekend 17 protesters were arrested at three mining sites across Southern West Virginia.

“I don’t understand why any human being wants to try to take the job of another human being particularly in today’s economy,” he said

In light of the protests, he says the classroom program is vital.

“It’s critical they learn about the environment, it’s critical they learn about the industry they learn about the professionalism that the industry operates under,” he said.

The program is scheduled to start at Stratton Elementary in Beckley this fall, but Regina Fairchild, chairwoman of Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary, says several schools in the region have requested the program.

“Obviously our goal, even with the auxiliary, is not to just stay in Raleigh County,” she said. “We want to increase it to every county throughout West Virginia.”

 However, to make that happen, Fairchild says the project needs more volunteers and more ladies auxiliary chapters.

 She’s also looking for help with upcoming projects such as Mr. Coal …

 “We are passionate about our Mr. Coal which is a stuffed dog, it’s like a lab,” she said. “It’s a real soft plush little animal that we are giving to all pre-schools, nurseries, the elderly.”

 “We want to let the community and the area know that the people of coal care.

Other projects include the giving hearts program which offers food and help to the needy as well as a coal closet. The closet is a place where members can donate furniture and clothes to the less fortunate.

There is also a proposed Friends of Coal vanity license plate. Fairchild says the Raleigh County Vocational Center created the design for a vanity plate in order to raise money for the state.

She says that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The ladies are also organizing the Junior Friends of Coal as well. The first meeting is tonight at Mabscott Elementary.

Also, the ladies will help to wrap up the Coal in the Classroom program with a field trip to the exhibition coal mine in Beckley. They also plan to visit Terex, a company in Beckley that manufactures high-wall miners.

Assistant Superintendent of Raleigh County Schools Janet Lilly was scheduled to speak with Raney yesterday but was a no-show. Lilly did not immediately return our calls for comment.