March 27, 2024

Together in totality: Eclipse Day brings out-of-this-world teachable moments for students and staff

Author: Emily Allen
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Together in totality: Eclipse Day brings out-of-this-world teachable moments for students and staff
Caption: Students and staff at Belleville Henderson CSD gear up to celebrate the total solar eclipse with student-designed eclipse shirts and eclipse maps. Left to right: Sarah Fowler, art teacher; Maeve Crooker, Delilah Zerphey, Althea Meunier and Jaxon Bettinger, student shirt designers; Heather Streeter, science teacher and BHTA president.

Palmyra Macedon Faculty Association member Joe Perry has been waiting for this since he started his teaching career in 1998.

“If it’s cloudy in upstate New York on April 8, 2024, it will ruin my decade!”

Let’s face it, if there’s one thing you can rely on during the spring season in New York, it’s that the weather will be unreliable.

Palmyra-Macedon Faculty Association member Joseph Perry prepares for the total solar eclipse one year before the big day on April 8, 2023 at 3:22 p.m. But the Earth and space science teacher remains optimistic that even under cloudy conditions, his pocket of western New York will experience a spectacular celestial event that Monday: the region’s first total solar eclipse in 99 years.

For those on the path of totality, it will be a rare opportunity to be plunged into darkness during the day as the moon passes in front of the sun.

“The next total solar eclipse that will happen in our area of New York state is 2144, so that means that even kids who were born last week won’t be alive for that,” Perry explained.

Perry says western and North Country New Yorkers will experience as much as four minutes of darkness, depending on exact location, and will be able to see five visible planets at the same time. And with a pair of binoculars, Perry says there’s even a chance to catch a glimpse of the “devil comet,” which only appears every 71 years.

For years, he’s been advocating to make sure students can not only view and enjoy the momentous occasion but do so safely.

As the timing of the eclipse will begin during afternoon school bus runs, thus posing a transportation safety hazard, Perry worked with his local to submit a resolution to the 2022 NYSUT Representative Assembly whereas NYSUT would request the State Education Department include language in their 2023-24 school calendar strongly encouraging all school districts in the state of New York implement a modified school day on April 8.

Districts were ultimately allowed to make their own decisions, and most schools in the Rochester region, including Palmyra-Macedon Central School District, will be closed on the day of the eclipse.

Along with several of his colleagues, Perry will be hosting a viewing party on school grounds for students, staff and community members. The district rented a digital planetarium and placed it in the gymnasium just in case the weather is unruly.

“It is simply taking awe in the wonders of nature. There’s so much stuff out there that can distract kids and adults from that, but what science comes down to is observing, measuring and appreciating.”

2024 Wayne County Solar EclipseAbout two hours northeast of Pal-Mac, students and staff at Belleville Henderson CSD will be celebrating the full week before the eclipse, as schools will be closed on April 8. Kids will be given eclipse glasses and student-designed shirts purchased with a NYSUT Solidarity Grant and community donations. The grant also helped pay for eclipse maps in every classroom and special eclipse photo filters that can be added on to cell phones to take pictures of the event.

“I’m super stoked about it,” said Belleville Henderson TA President Heather Streeter, who teaches high school science courses. “I remember when I was in second grade going outside in the spring to watch a partial eclipse and it was one of those things that made me interested in science. So, I’m thinking now if one of our students is impacted by viewing this, who knows how far that experience will take them in life. It’s just one of those opportunities to remind our kids how much school and learning can be fun.”

As a member of the district’s Eclipse Committee, Streeter and her colleagues have been ramping up for this day for the last few years. They brought high school students to SUNY Cortland’s planetarium and took younger students to the Museum of Science & Technology in Syracuse. They also coordinated to bring Cornell Cooperative Extension's mobile planetarium to their campus for students to enjoy a journey through space. And BHTA delivered additional eclipse glasses to senior citizens living at the Henderson School Senior Apartments so they, too, can safely enjoy the momentous occasion.

“The whole event is just going to be a really memorable, once-in-a-lifetime teaching moment that reenergizes you as an educator,” Streeter said.

But while it may be a one-off show for many, Perry is already planning his trip to see another total solar eclipse happening in Orlando, FL – on August 12, 2045.

“Yes, I did ask hotels if they take reservations 30 years in advance. They don’t.”