Schools' eclipse dilemma: Let students watch, or not?

  • Annaly Soto, 11, center, and Grace Mercado, 11, center right, learn about an eclipse at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin. While some suburban schools are allowing students outside with protective eyewear to view the eclipse, others are keeping students indoors to avoid the risk of eye damage from unprotected viewing.

    Annaly Soto, 11, center, and Grace Mercado, 11, center right, learn about an eclipse at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin. While some suburban schools are allowing students outside with protective eyewear to view the eclipse, others are keeping students indoors to avoid the risk of eye damage from unprotected viewing. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Sixth-grader Brandon Biddle, 11, learns about a solar eclipse using flashlights and balls as stand-in for the sun, moon and Earth at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin. Students in grades three through six will go outdoors to view the eclipse while wearing protective eyewear.

    Sixth-grader Brandon Biddle, 11, learns about a solar eclipse using flashlights and balls as stand-in for the sun, moon and Earth at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin. Students in grades three through six will go outdoors to view the eclipse while wearing protective eyewear. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Wayne Elementary School Principal Marybeth Whitney-DeLaMar plans to have her entire school of 340 students and more than 40 employees outside watching the solar eclipse.

    Wayne Elementary School Principal Marybeth Whitney-DeLaMar plans to have her entire school of 340 students and more than 40 employees outside watching the solar eclipse. Courtesy of Wayne Elementary School

 
 
Updated 8/18/2017 4:47 PM

In what might seem like a scene from a science-fiction movie, hundreds of suburban students will take a break from classes at around 1 p.m. Monday to join millions of bespectacled eyes gazing up at the sun for what is pegged as the greatest show on Earth.

Yet, other local school districts, concerned about ensuring students are protected from the potentially eye-harming view, are keeping them engaged indoors during the partial solar eclipse.

 

Many educators are using the solar eclipse, which has captured imaginations around the globe, as an opportunity for hands-on learning.

From left, Wayne Elementary School speech pathologist Mary Moreno, secretary Patty Sabo, Principal Marybeth Whitney-DeLaMar and social worker Amanda Huggins gear up for Monday's solar eclipse. The entire school will be out on the Wayne school's playground or parking lot for the viewing.
From left, Wayne Elementary School speech pathologist Mary Moreno, secretary Patty Sabo, Principal Marybeth Whitney-DeLaMar and social worker Amanda Huggins gear up for Monday's solar eclipse. The entire school will be out on the Wayne school's playground or parking lot for the viewing. - Courtesy of Wayne Elementary School

"It's going to be sci-fi Wayne style," Wayne Elementary School Principal Marybeth Whitney-DeLaMar said of her plan to have 340 students and more than 40 school employees don protective solar glasses for a viewing from either the Wayne school's parking lot or playground. "We're really pretty jazzed about it. It's just something that I want everyone to experience because, for a lot of us, we are not going to see this again. You cannot let it pass you by. We can document this in our yearbooks."

The next total solar eclipse crossing the United States will be in 2024, and another in 2045. Chicago doesn't get a total eclipse until 2099.

Some districts, such as Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, have issued directives warning teachers to keep students indoors during Monday's eclipse.

District 300 has ordered all physical education classes for students in kindergarten through 12th grade to be held indoors. Outdoor athletic practices, marching band and other events will be delayed until after 3:30 p.m., when the eclipse is over. Coaches and instructors might also opt to cancel practices.

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While no outdoor classes are allowed that day, the district is providing sets of approved safety eyewear to each school for some students with parental permission to observe the partial eclipse.

Creekside Elementary School sixth-grade student Jaimie Zarate, 11, learns about a solar eclipse using flashlights and balls as stand-ins for the sun, moon and Earth. Students in grades three through six at the Elgin school will go outdoors to view the eclipse while wearing protective eyewear.
Creekside Elementary School sixth-grade student Jaimie Zarate, 11, learns about a solar eclipse using flashlights and balls as stand-ins for the sun, moon and Earth. Students in grades three through six at the Elgin school will go outdoors to view the eclipse while wearing protective eyewear. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Educators are nervous about keeping excited grade schoolers from succumbing to the temptation to look up at the sun directly. Schools are taking lots of precautions, such as showing students videos ahead of time that emphasize safe viewing. Teachers and school employees will be supervising to ensure students are keeping the protective glasses on while they look at the sun.

During the eclipse the sun will be roughly 87 to 90 percent covered in the suburbs, but looking at it with regular sunglasses or through binoculars or telescopes without the proper equipment can still severely damage eyes. The only safe way to watch is using glasses or viewers with special solar filters, according to National Aeronautics and Space Administration guidelines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Concerns over the quality of eclipse glasses has forced one school to cancel its planned viewing.

Melissa Sabatino, principal of Willow Bend School in Rolling Meadows, notified parents this week that glasses purchased several weeks ago could not be verified as having the required specifications and were not on the list of viewers approved by the American Astronomical Society.

"We do not want to risk the eyesight of our students and staff," Sabatino wrote. "Teachers will be able to stream the live NASA coverage of the eclipse in the classroom and students will be able to note the unusual darkness outside from 1 to 1:40 p.m., but we will be keeping the students inside."

Peggy Hernandez, Elgin Area School District U-46 Planetarium teacher, has been training teachers on how to maximize students' educational experience. Hernandez primarily has been emphasizing safety and proper viewing methods.

Students at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin learn about the eclipse using flashlights and balls as stand-ins for the sun, moon and Earth. Teacher Amy Zapata's sixth-grade class is planning a trip to Brookfield Zoo during the eclipse to observe how animals react to the midday darkness.
Students at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin learn about the eclipse using flashlights and balls as stand-ins for the sun, moon and Earth. Teacher Amy Zapata's sixth-grade class is planning a trip to Brookfield Zoo during the eclipse to observe how animals react to the midday darkness. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Protective solar glasses -- which look a lot like 3-D glasses -- made by legitimate manufacturers block 99.9 percent of ultraviolet light. The eclipse also can be seen using pinhole viewers or reflecting the sunlight using a hand mirror or solar filter onto a surface, such as white paper, wall or ground, to watch its progression.

"You could hold a colander up and project little images of the eclipse on the ground. There's a lot of fun ways to view this without glasses," Hernandez said. "The temptation to look up is going to be great. It's a fine line between the fear and the hysteria that can develop when you overreact and being lenient."

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