Solar eclipse puts district schools on inclement weather schedule

New STEAM school, Hemet Elementary, views the eclipse old-school

Spencer White
A photo of the eclipse from Johns Creek, Georgia. They had a slightly different experience.

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

The recent eclipse made headlines across the nation. While this unusual event had astronomy buffs driving and flying cross-country to catch a glimpse of the total eclipse, the valley’s school districts felt the risk of eye damage to students was too high and had schools on an “inclement weather” schedule.
“This is the first total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. in 38 years,” said a statement released by the Hemet Unified School District. “While this is an exciting learning opportunity, according to the American Astronomical Society and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, looking at the sun during an eclipse without adequate eye protection can cause permanent damage to the retina.”
However, special glasses were not needed for Laura Anderson’s third grade class at Hemet Elementary School. This recently-opened STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) school went old-school using hole-punched paper to view the shadows.
“My class was amazed by the eclipse and was able to use what they had learned from Mystery Science and the NASA website to understand what was happening. I think it was important that teachers ‘front-loaded’ with the kids so that they could get much more out of the experience,” said Anderson. “We made simple hole-punch viewers that allowed us to see the shadow of what was happening, and my students respected the power of the sun by not trying to look directly at it. What a great day for science! I can’t imagine them not experiencing this first-hand. We also watched the NASA website to see the total eclipse within the Zone of Totality. It was quite an exciting day!”

Erica Hoeft
An eclipse photo from Minier, Illinois. Overcast skies made viewing difficult.

San Jacinto Unified was leaning toward the conservative and apparently was also concerned about students damaging their vision. It released the following statement on its website: “San Jacinto Unified is excited about the educational opportunity the eclipse presents and has planned for a morning of safe and engaging activities for students. San Jacinto Unified schools will be open and operating on an inclement weather schedule in the morning to minimize outside activities and ensure our students stay safe.
“We want to assure parents and staff that student safety is the district’s number one concern,” continued the release. “During the eclipse and at any other time, looking directly at the sun, even for a brief moment, can cause severe vision damage. Parents are encouraged to share with their students the importance of exercising proper safety and never looking directly at the sun.
“For more information, please visit https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov. If you have any questions about a particular school’s planned activities, please contact the school office. We look forward to experiencing this exciting event with students, and we encourage students to not miss this exciting opportunity to learn about this historic event.”
NASA’s website educates viewers on the four types of eclipses: Total (moon completely covers the sun), partial (moon partially covers the sun), annular (passes directly in front but due to location doesn’t completely cover the sun) and hybrid (combination of total and annular).

Laura Anderson/HUSD
Students from Laura Anderson’s third grade class at Hemet Elementary made hole punch viewers to view the shadows from the eclipse.

According to the website, “Solar eclipses happen when the moon moves between Earth and the sun. You might think that this should happen every month since the moon’s orbit, depending on how it is defined, is between about 27 and 29 days long. But our moon’s orbit is tilted with respect to Earth’s orbit around the sun by about five degrees. Only when the sun, moon, and Earth line up close to the ‘line of nodes,’ the imaginary line that represents the intersection of the orbital planes of the moon and Earth, can you have an eclipse.”
The HUSD website apparently recognized that some students would try to look at the sun no matter what and encouraged eclipse watchers to wear proper eye protection: “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed, or partially eclipsed, sun is through special solar eclipse glasses,” according to the website.
“Ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun,” the statement continued. “If you choose to purchase eclipse glasses for your class, go to this NASA website link, for a list of reputable vendors and to make sure your eclipse glasses are safe- https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov.”

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