Schools preparing for unique teaching moment eclipse will provide

In less than two weeks, Johnson County will get the chance to witness a historical eclipse, and local schools don’t want to miss out.

On Aug. 21, when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, students have the chance to actually witness something they usually only read about. Local schools are capitalizing on the growing excitement of the rare eclipse and planning the best way to help their students learn by experiencing it.

From live video feeds from NASA to getting kids outside with protective glasses, schools across the county are planning to participate in some way in the eclipse.

But while teachers don’t want to miss out on the opportunity, they also know safety is a top concern, they said.

That’s why Franklin schools has deferred to the school board, asking for the elected officials who control the school district’s budget and overall focus to decide if students should be allowed to watch, or not.

If they get the OK, schools across the district are planning events for their students. For example, Webb Elementary School already has protective glasses for its students to watch the eclipse, Principal Cheryl Moran said.

In other areas across the nation, some schools have made the choice to cancel school for the day.

At Pleasant Crossing Elementary School, recess has been canceled for the day, but the plan is to bring students outside to see the eclipse, as long as their parents sign permission slips and students keep their protective glasses on, said Dana Vargo, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization.

The group started planning for the eclipse months ago, spending nearly $600 on 1,000 pairs of protective glasses in the summer, she said.

On Friday, teachers went through a training about the best ways to explain to students why they need to wear their protective glasses, since they could seriously damage their eyes if they don’t. And during the next week, teachers will explain that to their students. Teachers will be sending out letters and reminders and students will watch videos about safety, she said.

“We don’t want to scare them, and we want them do it, but we want to make sure they understand,” Vargo said.

If any of the 800 students’ parents don’t want them to participate, or if students won’t keep their glasses on, the school will show a live video of the eclipse from NASA inside, she said.

At Westwood Elementary School in Greenwood, fifth-grade teacher Teresa Gross is using the eclipse as a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

Her students will be preparing presentations to teach younger students in third and fourth grade about the eclipse. And then fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed to watch the eclipse — with the protective glasses, of course. Safety will also be a part of what they are researching before the eclipse, she said. In addition to their presentations, students will also write six-word poems after the eclipse and submit them to NASA’s website, she said.

Gross is most excited about her students’ excitement, since they learn more when they are engaged, she said.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so it is a big deal, and as teachers we have a responsibility for them to learn about this experience,” Gross said.

Gross has been planning her eclipse lessons for a few weeks, after working through any concerns or questions with her school, since officials have never had this chance before, she said. But she couldn’t pass up this opportunity, she said.

“We are not just going to let this pass by; we are going to stop and take the time to learn about something that excites them,” Gross said.

“Any time my kids are excited is exciting for me as a teacher.”

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.