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Columbia County schools prepare to use eclipse as teaching moment

Posted: August 16, 2017 - 1:54am
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Euchee Creek Elementary School students practice how to turn away from the sun to put their eclipse glasses on and off before viewing the solar eclipse. Students district-wide have been practicing how to safely view the eclipse Monday and enjoy a memorable event.
Euchee Creek Elementary School students practice how to turn away from the sun to put their eclipse glasses on and off before viewing the solar eclipse. Students district-wide have been practicing how to safely view the eclipse Monday and enjoy a memorable event.

The Columbia County School district is turning a few minutes of a highly anticipated solar eclipse into a week-long learning session that teachers are hoping students will not soon forget.

The district announced two weeks ago that all Columbia County School District schools will remain in school 30 minutes later than normal Monday, Aug. 21, in order that students may view the eclipse with their classmates. In addition, the schools have purchased required eclipse glasses for all students and faculty.

"The Columbia County School District views this event as an awesome learning opportunity for our students, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," read a news release from the district. "Accordingly, all content area teachers across all grade levels will provide instruction related to such occurrences beforehand and every student in the district will have the opportunity to view the eclipse while at school."

Leading the charge with resources and options for incorporating the eclipse into teaching plans district-wide is Euchee Creek Elementary School fourth grade math and science teacher Debbie Rogers.

"We've asked all of the teachers, across content areas, including our art teacher, our music teacher, P.E., to try to integrate some form of education or activity about the solar eclipse into their day," Rogers said. "I know many of the teachers have already started teaching the kids about the eclipse to prepare for it. Even our art teacher is doing an activity with (students) predicting what they think it's going to look like."

Rogers said Euchee Creek Elementary students were visited by a member of the Augusta Astronomy Club to talk about the eclipse and safety. Following the eclipse next week, students will get to see a star lab that will be set up in the school's media center.

"It's kind of like a traveling observatory," Rogers said. "There's a projector with different cylinders that you put in and it can show the kids the constellations and the sun and moon. We thought that would be great to follow up after the eclipse."

And while it's exciting, Rogers and school principal Katie Yeargain said the school district has made safety a top priority.

This week, students received their ISO-certified eclipse glasses, and teachers are taking time all week long with their students outside to practice how to properly wear the glasses.

"Anytime you stare at the sun, your natural reaction is to look away," Rogers said. "But during the eclipse as the moon moves between the earth and the sun, it's going to partially block the sun and ... it's not as bright. So you can look at it, but you don't want to because those rays are still there."

But teachers are on guard to be sure that students, especially younger ones, understand the dangers and will be supervised during the viewing.

"That's why we are being proactive, and we are going to explain why it's so critical to leave their glasses on all the time," Yeargain said.

Rogers took time with her students Monday to hand out the eclipse glasses, which are similar to what 3-D glasses look like, and practice outside how to wear them.

The students were instructed not to touch the lenses. Once outside, Rogers demonstrated how students should turn their backs to the sun to put their eclipse glasses on. Once the glasses are on, the students can turn and face the sun to view the eclipse. To remove the glasses, the students then turn their backs to the sun again and take the glasses off.

"It's been 38 years since the last one even remotely was in this area, and the last one that came through this close to Georgia was in the early 1900s," Rogers said. "I don't want to miss the experience, I just want everybody to be safe while we're looking at the sun."

The county has offered parents the opportunity for their children to opt out of viewing the eclipse at school, but Yeargain said that the school has had very few takers.

"Everybody has been very positive about it," Yeargain said. "The parents have been very excited."

Yeargain added that parents are welcome to join the students for the eclipse-viewing, but will have to provide their own eclipse glasses, as the district only purchased enough glasses for students and faculty.

The teachers at Euchee Creek Elementary have met to decide where the students will view the eclipse on the school grounds. Yeargain and Rogers said that they meet daily to discuss the best course of action.

"We are having a big faculty meeting this week," Yeargain said. "I'll discuss safety with them, and Debbie will talk about what is actually going to happen so ... no one is afraid."

Yeargain discussed releasing students in a similar manner as a fire drill, so teachers can stay with their classes. And different grade levels are likely to stay outside to view the eclipse longer than others.

But the release times from school will be 30 minutes later across the district.

"We are delayed 30 minutes, so instead of leaving at 3:40 p.m., they'll leave at 4:10 and everything else will stay the same," Yeargain said. "The kids will get home a little bit later."

The extra time is not only a safety factor, but also a chance for students to focus and truly embrace the cosmic event.

"Just like with Veterans Day, I don't know that children will fully embrace this if they're not with us," Yeargain said. "If the children are riding the bus home and they get home from school and their parents are still working - my own children, I wouldn't be home during the eclipse, I would be at work, so my children would be at home - it worries me that they wouldn't wear the glasses. At least if they're with us, we are going to keep them safe."

The event has been a learning experience for educators, as well.

"It's not just viewing the eclipse; that's just a small part of it," Rogers said. "We've learned that we can take one event and there's so much we can build upon it to teach the kids about the solar system and the eclipse. It's not just going to be one day."

And they are hoping for a memorable event.

"I hope it's something they'll always remember. I have learned so much. I didn't even know there was an eclipse until Debbie told me last spring," Yeargain said. "I had no idea it was going to be this big."

 

ECLIPSE CLOSURES

Augusta Preparatory Day School will be releasing early on a half-day schedule with Lower School releasing at 11:20 a.m. and Middle and Upper schools doing so at 11:30 a.m. There will be no Middle School sports practices at the school that afternoon and JV and varsity practices will take place from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Extended Day services will be offered that day until 6 p.m., and a college presentation event by UGA, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State will go forward as previously scheduled from 6-8 p.m. that night in the Hull Fine Arts Center.

Augusta Christian Schools will dismiss grades K3-3rd grade early. Students in 4th and 5th grades will be on a field trip in Columbia, S.C. The school is purchasing eclipse glasses for 6th-12th grade students to watch the eclipse at the school.

 

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