Eyes to the sky: How schools are using Monday’s solar eclipse as teaching moment

First, don’t look up! At least not without proper protective eyewear.

That’s among the lessons suburban schools are imparting to students for viewing Monday’s total solar eclipse, visible only partially in the Chicago region starting around 12:51 p.m. and ending around 3:22 p.m. The maximum eclipse will happen at 2:07 p.m. when 93 to 94% of the sun will be blocked.

Many schools are capitalizing on this once-in-several-years teaching moment by tying it to lesson plans, providing eclipse glasses verified using NASA safety standards and organizing viewing events, while others are canceling outdoor athletics, and recess as a precaution.

A total solar eclipse is the result of the moon passing between the sun and the Earth, blocking all sunlight in a particular path — through Southern Illinois starting near Effingham heading southwest to Carbondale down to the state line. It’s the first time since 2017 a solar eclipse will be visible on a path across the entire continental United States.

Safety first

Staring directly into the sun can be damaging to eyes.

In Elgin Area School District U-46, Naperville Unit District 203, Des Plaines Elementary District 62, Barrington Area Unit District 220, Palatine Township District 15, Lake Zurich Community Unit District 95, Round Lake Area Unit District 116 and several other districts, students will be able to view the eclipse under supervision with district-supplied protective eyewear, provided they have signed permission slips from parents or guardians. Most schools have structured activities around the event.

In U-46, the district bought enough safety glasses/viewers for each student and employee. Schools in District 203 have done the same.

“Safety-focused professional development has been arranged for teachers and staff who will be taking students outside,” said Tara Burghart, U-46 communications and media relations coordinator.

U-46 also is directing families and community members to its webpage dedicated to the eclipse,

Fostering curiosity

Of the 560 students in District 203’s Maplebrook Elementary School in Naperville, about 540 have turned in permission slips to participate in viewing the eclipse, Principal Araceli Ordaz said.

“Teachers have been preparing students for the big event, discussing what an eclipse is and how to safely view it,” she said. “It’s a phenomenon that adults and children are pretty excited about. We’re fostering that curiosity.”

“This is kind of a cool thing … a wonder of the universe if we think about it. Kids are going to remember this day in the future,” Ordaz said.

Palatine Township District 15 canceled after-school outdoor sports at the junior highs Monday. Physical education classes and recess are moving indoors during the eclipse.

“Safety during the eclipse viewing is our top priority,” a district letter to parents reads. “Because parts of the sun will still be visible, we are providing solar eclipse glasses that must be worn outside at all times.”

Morning kindergarten students will be given eclipse glasses to take home.

At Carol Stream District 93, families of fifth- through eighth-graders could opt out of participation while other students have been provided protective eclipse glasses and will be taken outside to watch and learn. Meanwhile, students in younger grades will be kept indoors during the eclipse.

“Our regularly scheduled Monday dismissal does occur very near the eclipse’s maximum coverage point of 2:07 p.m., with our middle schoolers dismissing at 1:45 p.m. and elementary students dismissing at 2:15 p.m., so we have provided families with general safety guidelines,” said Ryan McPherrin, District 93 director for communications.

At the height of the eclipse, all teachers at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools will bring students outside for viewing with lab-approved glasses. Teachers and students also have created educational and safety videos that all students will watch.

Wheaton-Warrenville Unit District 200 is allowing schools to decide how they want to approach the celestial event, district spokeswoman Alyssa Barry said. The district will move recess and any classes that normally would be held outside, such as physical education, indoors during the eclipse.

“This will be an exciting learning opportunity for our students and we are planning educational activities connected to our science curriculum,” said Samantha Scheinman, director of communications for Barrington Unit District 220.

• Daily Herald staff writers Alice Fabbre, Russell Lissau, Dave Oberhelman, Katlyn Smith, and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.

The period of total coverage during the 2017 solar eclipse is seen near Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Associated Press
  Wayne Elementary School students watch the solar eclipse in 2017. Rick West/
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