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Eclipse will be teaching moment for Clark County teachers

Updated August 20, 2017 - 11:47 pm

There was no way Stephanie Devine, a self-proclaimed astronomy nerd, was going to miss the solar eclipse.

So this summer, she started planning how to connect the solar eclipse to her English language arts classes at Coral Academy of Las Vegas, where she teaches sixth- and seventh-grade students.

She found a short story by Ray Bradbury — known to high school students as the author of “Fahrenheit 451” — that fit perfectly. “All Summer in a Day” is a science-fiction piece where it rains all the year, except for one hour of one day, on the planet Venus, which has been colonized.

In the story, a classroom full of children prepares to see the sun for the first time. They shun their classmate Margot, who only recently arrived from Earth and, as the only one who has seen the sun, is somewhat of an outcast.

The children lock Margot in a tunnel, and she misses the rare event.

Devine plans to read the story while the children are observing Monday’s total eclipse using special glasses she obtained during the summer.

“I wanted to find a way in,” she said. “I’d just hate to have them in a class like any other day when something like this is happening. I think it’s a rare and special event. It’s something I wanted the students to witness and be a part of.”

School districts respond

Students throughout Clark County will either take in the rare event or learn about it in classes. A few schools have secured donations of approved-viewing glasses, district officials said. Otherwise, the district sent out general guidance rules to principals to encourage safe viewing.

“We did send out some information to principals about safe viewing of the eclipse,” spokesman Melinda Malone said. “We obviously want our kids doing it safely.”

School districts nationwide have grappled with how to balance student safety against the rare opportunity, according to media reports. Some are instructing schools to keep students inside during the eclipse, so they don’t look directly at the sun without the glasses. A few have canceled classes for the day or allowed parents to keep their children out of school to watch it together.

Other districts acquired enough glasses for all their students — including Washoe County in Northern Nevada.

“The majority of schools are participating in this event,” Washoe County schools spokeswoman Victoria Campbell said in an email. “We have secured safety glasses for our students, and we are looking forward to participating in this ‘teachable moment’ with them!”

Jumping right in

Students at Gene Ward Elementary School on Hacienda Avenue in Las Vegas got a crash course in eclipses during science lab last week — the first week of school. Teacher Jackie Jaeger had the foresight to order more than 800 glasses in May for the event.

“It’s a little heavy (for the first week of school), and it’s not something I would have done with kindergarten, but they can all go out and see it,” she said.

Last week, the students got the basics about what an eclipse is and how it happens. This week, they will dive further into the topic, since the students will have the firsthand experience of watching a total eclipse cross North America for the first time in decades.

“I wasn’t planning on doing space and planets now, but since everyone is so interested in it, we’re going to jump right in,” she said.

Even the online schools are getting into it. Nevada Connections Academy, an online charter school, is holding field trips in Reno and Las Vegas. Solar and lunar eclipses are part of the sixth-grade science curriculum, said Debora Schultz, a science teacher who helped organize the event in Las Vegas.

The events won’t be limited to sixth-grade students, and Schultz has a few dozen glasses to share.

“We’ll be talking about the vocabulary, why the eclipses happen, how often they happen. We’ll talk about lunar eclipses versus solar eclipses,” she said. “It’ll be a busy day. I’m going to make them write down things so they remember for the second semester.”

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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