Braxton Citizens' News, Schools

Braxton students experience variety of solar eclipse educational opportunities

By Shirley Shuman

Most students in Braxton County public schools participated in various activities along with viewing during last week’s solar eclipse.  Principals of the different schools described some of these activities and their students’ reactions. The actual viewing was possible through the foresight of Burnsville Public Library’s Beth Anderson, librarian. Anderson, realizing the eclipse was only a year away and that it could be a valuable educational experience, applied in 2023  for a grant which provided enough money for her to buy safety glasses.  Most of these were distributed to the schools although she noted she did have some for the general public.

Dr. Grace Wine, principal of Burnsville Elementary explained that BES teachers “in their own classrooms decided to handle the eclipse.” Wine said, “Each classroom had age-appropriate activities, learning about the eclipse first. I left it to individual teachers to determine the length of time their students spent outside.  She did note that the  pre-school and kindergarten teachers held all activities inside and watched the eclipse online.

According to Sutton Elementary principal Flora Cox, the students there had a busy day. “Our teachers watched NASA livestream to let the students see the eclipse fully. Several of them also taught science lessons about the eclipse and safety,” she explained. Every student at SES did go outside. Cox noted that they rotated the students inside and outside and kept their viewing to no more than three minutes. “Every time a class would come in, I’d go in and bring another class out. That way everyone got to see it,”  the principal said.

At Flatwoods, the students cut eye and nose holes out of paper plates which they put on their glasses. Principal Meredith Hoover explained that these “masks” were designed to avoid eye damage by keeping students from peeking out of the tops of their glasses. Before going outside, the FES teachers played learning videos and explained the eclipse. “The morning was focused on learning,” Hoover said, adding “Many followed up with activities.  Some were out a few different times.” All Flatwoods students did view the eclipse at least once.

Michelle Winemiller, Davis Elementary principal, chose not to take students outside. “They’re little,” she said, “and I was really worried about taking them out.”  Winemiller did explain that “a lot of teachers let students view it online,” and added, “Several, probably everyone in the school, did activities with it.”  One of those teachers, Betty Singleton said she brought the eclipse up on the Smartboard, and they discussed the eclipse and what happened to cause it. She used the NASA website.

“Each of our teachers had activities in the classrooms about the eclipse and explained the science of why it occurred,” Principal Jessica Pierson at Little Birch Elementary explained. “I also went around to each classroom to make sure that each student knew how to use the safety glasses.”  She noted that some classes made the paper-plate shields and said that one group “custom made shields for me and Miss Stacy. We were proud to wear them.” At Little Birch each class had an assigned spot on the playground to avoid confusion. “We watched for about 20 minutes,” Pierson said.

One example of activities teachers used was the mobile created by Sara Malone of Little Birch Elementary. That group made a mobile of the sun, the moon, and the earth “to give them an idea of the bodies associated with the eclipse, she explained. Her students were still a bit “surprised,” she noted, when they actually viewed it.

Britni Ramsey, FRES’s principal said her students, especially pre-school and kindergarten kids, “were excited and amazed at what they saw.”  At  Frametown,  the kindergarten group had “a different experiment.”  The principal explained, “They went out, looked, and then predicted, by drawing pictures,, what they thought they would see next.  Later, they went out again, came back in and drew pictures of what they actually saw.” Students at FRES went out as individual classes. Ramsey declared that these activities were all “definitely worthwhile” and explained, “Usually kids learn about things they never see. Here they could actually see what they were learning about.”

At Braxton County Middle School, all classes provided lessons on safety and the eclipse, according to Principal Amy Perkins. Near the end of the day, students reported to the gym where Perkins and instructor Jenny Johnson spoke to the entire study body about safety. Johnson also explained what the students would be seeing. Outside, each grade had a different place for the viewing. Principal Perkins said she noticed that most students “were involved and amazed and that they really enjoyed the event.”

“Our students had an epic eclipse,” Lori Stover-Williams, principal of Braxton County High School declared. She explained that, after a brief safety lesson, students and staff “headed outside.” She said, “Four stations were set up with eclipse activities. After completing an activity, they received a punch on their passports to the solar express. The passport could be turned in for a ‘sunsational’ treat.”

Teachers in those schools whose students viewed the eclipse designed activities for their students, and some teachers in the schools where students were not allowed to go out during the eclipse also designed activities. Although activities were different, everyone agreed that the day held educational value.