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(Almost) total eclipse of the sun: Daves Creek Elementary integrates phenomenon into curriculum

Students sat in single file lines across the Joint Venture Park football field in south Forsyth on Monday, sweltering in the 90-degree August 21 heat, backs to the sun.

The glasses every kid, teacher and parent wore looked the same, as if the entire Daves Creek Elementary School student population was headed to a 3-D movie outdoors — except the lenses were tinted chrome instead of one red and one blue.

- photo by Jim Dean
It wouldn’t get dark enough to view a movie outside in Forsyth County, just more than 35 miles southwest of where the moon would soon completely black out the sun, but the 98.8 percent solar eclipse would make it seem like you had on a deeply shaded pair of sunglasses, like the ones you get from the doctor after having your eyes dilated. At the height of the partial eclipse that passed over north and metro Atlanta at 2:36 p.m., it felt more like fall than summer.

A teacher explained to the students over the loudspeaker that it had already dropped to 78 degrees.

When I came out and put the glasses on, I thought the moon was orange and that there was going to be zero gravity. Sometimes, something interesting can turn out boring but is still important.
Sadiq Rasheed, fifth grade, Daves Creek Elementary

Teachers at the school on Melody Mizer Lane used what for many will be a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to teach curriculum on the solar system and earth sciences in a hands-on — and eyes-up — experience.

“We started planning last spring,” said Christine Stroer, a science teacher who helped organized school-wide activities and the eclipse viewing. “Kindergarten, second and fourth grades’ curriculum is covering the solar system and earth sciences, so they’re doing activities like how does the moon revolve around the earth and how does the moon and the earth revolve around the sun, and many of them have the questions about how does the sun rotate and revolve around the earth but all of a sudden this time being placed in front of the sun and cast the shadow of the solar eclipse?”

Other grades have been talking about what a solar eclipse is and how often they occur.

“They’re having a fun time because they found out in 2078 we’ll actually have another one that goes through Georgia, so I told them, you know, take care of yourself, eat, exercise, be healthy and you’ll see it,” Stroer said.

Specials teachers at Daves Creek are having students do a passion project on the event, where they pick a question they’re interested in and research it.

“They’ll be presenting a project,” Stroer said. “We’ve had art activities. We’ve had music. PE has been doing different things.”

Eclipse-, moon- and sun-themed music boomed across the field Monday as teachers told students to put their glasses on — the younger ones adorned with paper crowns attached to the paper glasses to keep them in place — turn around and look up.

The reaction was immediate. Necks craned. Mouths dropped. Fingers pointed. Voices exclaimed.

Almost every Forsyth County school viewed the eclipse in some form, a natural event that had not traveled coast to coast in nearly a century.

One school — Matt Elementary — was among those that bought fake or non-compliant glasses, a scandal that came into view too late for large groups to reorder, forcing them to watch a broadcast of it inside.

North Forsyth High School also bought non-compliant glasses but was able to get ISO certified glasses in time to hold an event with North Forsyth Middle School on the Raiders football field, according to Randy Herrin, an assistant principal at the high school.

Four elementary schools kept their youngest eyes inside to do the same, along with two other total elementary schools. Two high schools allowed students outside for viewing, while the rest watched a broadcast. 

Lynn Shivers lines up her camera with the sun as she goes for the perfect eclipse photo outside the Forsyth County Courthouse on Monday. - photo by Jim Dean
The path of totality passed through 14 states, entering Lincoln City, Oregon, at 1:16 p.m. EDT, moving over Casper, Wyoming; Carbondale, Illinois; and Nashville, Tennessee, before exiting near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2: 47 p.m. EDT, according to The Associated Press.

Rabun County in the northeast Georgia mountains offered on of Georgia’s best spots to view the phenomenon, as it, too, was in the path of the total eclipse.

Forsyth County Schools students took advantage of the proximity, many traveling north with their families to view totality.

The school system saw a 56.51 percent attendance rate on Monday, said Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the district.

“It was higher at the elementary level — [they accounted] for half of our total student population — which is what we expected,” she said.

Those elementary school students who stayed at Daves Creek knew their favorite parts of the day as soon as it happened.

“I liked when the moon was coming over the sun and made it darker because I like the dark better,” said Kaelyn Pierce, a fifth-grader.

While viewing the slivered sun through glasses caused the most vocal reaction from students, the darkening sky in what should have been broad daylight was what they all said they thought was coolest, as reiterated by Pierce’s classmates Keira Hill, Caleb Hendrickson, Isaiah Vazemiller and Andre Armburst.

“When I came out and put the glasses on, I thought the moon was orange and that there was going to be zero gravity,” said Sadiq Rasheed, also a fifth-grader in the same class. “Sometimes, something interesting can turn out boring but is still important.”