Students at Oak Valley Elementary School in Buellton started school just three days before the alignment of the Earth, moon and sun gave them their first look at a solar eclipse.
Yet in that short time, they had absorbed a lot of information about not only the mechanics of the phenomenon, but things like the dangers of improperly viewing the event and what ancient people believed about eclipses.
Syzygy, a partial eclipse where it kind of looks like a crescent the zone of totality in the U.S., which is from Oregon on down to South Carolina, said 10-year-old Elijah Navarro, as he ticked off some of the subjects he and fellow fifth-graders had been studying less than half an hour before the eclipse was scheduled to begin Monday morning.
I cant wait to see it, since we have glasses, Elijah added. But we wont see a total eclipse. Well mostly see a partial, like 60 percent. It will look like a crescent moon.
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Getting those eclipse glasses for the entire school was not an easy task for Principal Hans Rheinschild. In fact, it proved impossible. Rheinschild said he could only get enough for half the school.
We have partners, and we each get to use them for 30 seconds, explained Katelyn Melby, also 10, and a fifth-grader. Only 400 (pairs) were up to date.
Elijah added, We got a list, and it named some glasses that it said do not work.
Ive seen them and theyre very dark, said 10-year-old Tanner Rhodes, one of Katelyns classmates. You cant use 3-D glasses. Even though they look the same, theyre not.
Rheinschild, who is also principal of Jonata Middle School in Buellton, said he was impressed by how much knowledge the teachers had imparted and the students had been able to absorb.
Its only the fourth day of school, he said, as he waited for the students to begin assembling in the quad. But Ive been going into the classrooms a lot, and every classroom I go into, theyre doing a lesson about the eclipse. I think every school in America is.
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The trio of fifth-graders had moved on to talking about what ancient people thought about eclipses.
The first people that ever viewed an eclipse drew what it looked like where they were on rock, Katelyn said.
It looked like an octopus, Elijah interjected. But with more than eight legs.
They thought the world was ending, added Tanner.
They put up sacrifices because they thought that would save the world, Elijah said.
Some people thought it was bad luck and some thought it was good luck, Katelyn continued. Some thought that the gods were taking the sun.
By now Monday's eclipse has begun.
Look at the difference in the shadows, Katelyn said, pointing at the gray images of the three projected on the concrete corridor outside their classrooms. Usually theyre darker than that.
Then they showed off something else theyd learned. If you dont have viewing glasses you can improvise a viewer by crossing your spread fingers into a waffle pattern and looking at the shadow that projects.
The shadows make little circles, Katelyn said, looking down at the crescent shapes that appeared in the edges of each square between their fingers.
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Lined up across the quad facing the multipurpose room and away from the sun, the students were greeted by Rheinschild.
Welcome to the eclipse of 2017, he said. This is a very special thing. You may not get to see another eclipse until youre as old as I am, maybe in your 50s or 60s.
Whispered wows rose from the rows of students.
The main thing about today is safety, safety, safety, he continued, once again going through the viewing procedure.
All of the students would remain facing away from the sun, then half the students would put on the glasses, turn around and look at the eclipse for 30 seconds. Then, they would turn back around and hand the glasses to their partners, who would do the same thing.
Then it was time for the viewing to begin, and as the glasses were passed back and forth and the students turned, the same ooohs and aaahs arose from small faces repeatedly awed by what they were seeing.
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Although the impression of the celestial event on the students was undeniably satisfying, the almost once-in-a-lifetime aspect of the eclipse might not be a bad thing for Rheinschild, who spent a lot of time preparing for it.
As a principal, Ive never had to deal with an eclipse before, he said. Its been a learning experience, definitely. Ill be retired by the time the next one comes along.