While many schools in Illinois are closing Aug. 21 due to the impending total solar eclipse, Highland School District will stay open. Superintendent Mike Sutton said the district is viewing the day as a teaching opportunity.
Most Highland students will remain in town for the eclipse. However, a group of fifth-graders from Highland Elementary School will be heading south near where they best viewing of the phenomenon is to be.
The students will be taking a field trip to Murphysboro State Park.
“I knew the significance of seeing totality and wanted to make sure my students were included,” said David Dempsey, who was instrumental in the school receiving a grant to pay for the trip.
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This solar eclipse is considered to be extra special because it will be a total solar eclipse, meaning the peak of the eclipse, the moon will completely cover 100 percent of the light from the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This is the first time in almost 100 years that an eclipse like this has traveled coast to coast in the United States, and it might be the last one for another century. However, only parts of the nation will be able to see a total eclipse. It just so happens that part of southern Illinois will be under what NASA calls the “path of totality.” This path stretches from Oregon to South Carolina and right through Carbondale.
Carbondale is said to be one of the prime viewing locations in the nation. On top of experiencing a total solar eclipse, they will experience the longest duration for the event.
The park is 5 1/2 miles from the central line for best viewing of the eclipse, so it will be almost impossible for the students to get a better viewpoint. The students will stay at the park until the end of the eclipse and then journey back to Highland.
“I have been praying for clear weather, so they have a great memory to compare the next one (to) during their junior year in high school,” Dempsey said. “Hopefully, their high school teachers will be able to take them to the exact same location seven years from now.”
(The next total eclipse visible in the United States after this one will be April 8, 2024.)
Leading up to the field trip, students will have three “drill days” to practice safely viewing the sun, according to Dempsey. Other lessons will include constellation identification, historical writings, creating models, and expectations.
Teachers across the district have been preparing for next Monday by creating special lessons that will help students better understand the eclipse when it happens, as well as how to view it safely.
“Student safety is our top priority for all students who view the eclipse outside,” said Cindy Tolbert, principal of Grantfork Elementary School and Alhambra Primary. “Plans are in place in each building to ensure all students are safe during the viewing of the eclipse. Our goal is to provide our students at all age levels with a wonderful learning experience.”
All students below the third-grade level will be viewing the eclipse inside on a live NASA stream. Third- and fourth-graders from Highland Elementary School and third-, fourth- and fifth graders at Grantfork Elementary School will have the option of viewing the eclipse outside, using safety glasses purchased by the district.
At Highland Middle School, administrators will send out passive permission slips, so students have the option of staying inside if they would like to watch the eclipse online. Otherwise, the middle-schoolers will be watching the event outside.
“We are excited about the opportunity to be able to share this experience with students to educate them about the eclipse,” said HMS Principal Erick Baer.
SIUE donated solar eclipse glasses from the entire student body and staff at Highland High School, according to Karen Gauen, the school’s principal. In anticipation for the event, Gauen said that a team of teachers and administrators attended an SIUE workshop about the eclipse, and the teachers are planning specific classroom lessons surrounding the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Gauen said teachers and students can view the eclipse two ways, either with safety glasses outside or from inside the school viewing a live NASA stream. Gauen said before the event HHS staff encourages parents to remind their children about eye safety during the eclipse.
According to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the solar eclipse will begin locally at 11:50 a.m. and end at 2:44 p.m., with but the peak time for the eclipse will occur at 1:18 p.m.
Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library, located at 1001 9th St. in Highland. Angela Kim, the library director, said there will be an event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kim said the library will be handing out eclipse safety glasses while supplies last and there will be two telescopes equipped with special solar eclipse filters to enable safe viewing. Additionally, there will be prizes handed out, various different displays, information and snacks.
For anyone who does not mind a short drive and wants some special glasses, free of charge, can head to Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. The university’s first day of classes coincides with the eclipse. While classes will be held as scheduled, the public will be welcome to the Ralph Korte Stadium, located at 3345 Stadium Drive in Edwardsville to view the event. Eclipse viewing glasses will be passed out for free.
There will be an enlarged, live, telescope-filmed video of the eclipse on multiple screens in the stadium. Viewing tents will also be on the north side of the arena, next to the parking lot. University professors will also be in attendance from the physics department. They will provide solar eclipse, science and safety information to attendees.
For refreshments, food trucks from the Morris University Center available on site. Lawn chairs are also permitted. For more information, visit siue.edu/eclipse.
Illinois State Police are reminding motorists to keep their eyes on the road, not the sky, during the eclipse.
Police are also asking motorists to be aware of distracted drivers. To avoid accidents, they said drivers should try not to observe the eclipse while driving. Parking on the side of the road to view the event is also discouraged, viewing areas are the safest away from traffic.
“The total solar eclipse is an exciting event which could cause distractions for motorists,” stated Director Leo P. Schmitz. “Please be sure to keep your headlights on for your safety throughout the entire day of the eclipse. Also make sure to watch for motorists who may be slowing or stopping and pedestrians standing near or on the roadway trying to view the event.”
Increased traffic is also expected on routes heading to and from the Carbondale area, even days before the event. Police are encouraging motorists going through Southern Illinois during to plan ahead and allow for extra travel time, even in areas away from Carbondale.
Concerned travelers can check conditions on Illinois roadways at gettingaroundillinois.com.
How to view the eclipse safely
- Never look directly at the sun without proper eye protection. You can seriously injure your eyes.
- Use certified eclipse glasses to look at the sun during the eclipse. Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief phase of eclipse totality, when the moon fully covers the sun. Eclipse glasses are made with special-purpose solar filters.
- Four manufacturers have certified that their eclipse glasses and hand-held solar viewers meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for such products — Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.
- Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter. Always supervise children using solar filters.