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      All it took was straight A's

      Students from four school districts in western Marquette County were part of an annual tour of Cliffs Natural Resources' facilities in Palmer. It was the annual Excellence in Education Day, offering a day of fun and education outside the classroom.

      It's a field trip to remember for 202 students this year. For 23 years Cliffs Natural Resources has teamed up with Ishpeming, Negaunee, NICE, and Republic-Michigamme school districts to honor 8th to 12th grade students who achieved straight A's in their fall semester. When students arrive for the Tilden and Empire Mine tours, they're taught "safety first."

      "We make sure that they know that safety is one of our top core values at Cliffs Natural Resources," said Jennifer Huetter, district manager for public affairs in Michigan for Cliffs Natural Resources.

      Everyone wears goggles, hard hats, reflective vests, and ear plugs... for good reason. Because of the noise much of the tour is guided by visual aids. The kiln that reaches more than 2300 degrees Fahrenheit caught everyone's attention.

      "It was like really hot on one side and really cold on the other side because the windows were on the other side," said Abby Nelson, an 8th grader at Negaunee Middle School.

      The last stop on the tour was the impressive sight of the Empire pit, which is over 1200 feet deep.

      "It was really cool seeing the 320 ton trucks looking like ants when we were up there," said Ann Auren, also an 8th grader at Negaunee Middle School.

      The day ended with lunch served at the Marquette Holiday Inn, which was also attended by the superintendents of the four school districts. Eight teachers, two from each district, were also awarded for their excellence in the classroom.

      Republic-Michigamme: Emily Harmon and Mike Dianich

      Ishpeming: Sheila Grazulis and Scott Syrjala

      NICE: Brooke LeClair and Peggy Crum

      Negaunee: Mark Churchill and Sandy LaForest