Perry-Lecompton students travel to Troy to view total solar eclipse

Perry-Lecompton students travel to Troy to view total solar eclipse

TROY — Clouds and some rain obstructed the view of Monday’s total solar eclipse in Troy, a Doniphan County town about 14 miles west of St. Joseph, Mo.

But students from Jefferson County’s Perry-Lecompton Unified School District 343 marveled at it anyway, with second-grade through high-school students erupting in delighted yells and exclamations of amazement as they gazed upward from the track and football field outside Troy Middle/High School, 319 S. Park St.

Some districts’ plans called for structuring lesson plans around the eclipse, viewing a live video stream or allowing students to view the phenomenon at school. Others chose to cancel classes because of concerns about liability. But USD 343 officials began planning an eclipse field trip in March, purchasing eclipse glasses for students and teachers well in advance and pinning down the viewing location. They said Monday they didn’t know of any other districts that took that approach.

Superintendent J.B. Elliott said making the trip to the path of totality in extreme northeast Kansas was a feat unlikely for larger districts to attempt.

Elliott said the district used 15 buses and seven vans to transport about 550 students to Troy for the viewing. The trip wasn’t mandatory, he said, so students and parents could choose whether the students would attend. He was impressed by the number of students who chose to do so.

“That’s really amazing,” Elliott said. “I said that to a teacher earlier — I said, ‘I’m really surprised how many parents and kids chose to come on this, knowing that they could have stayed home from school today and stayed home with their mom or dad and done stuff individually, but they chose to come to a school event.’ ”

After eating an early outdoor lunch, younger students rotated through several learning stations set up along the edge of the football field.

At one station, high-school seniors Jacalyn Supernaw-Marcum and Cara Coleman, students in Eryn Moland’s physics class, explained how sunscreen protects skin from the effects of UVA and UVB rays. Using UVA and UVB sensors, the high-schoolers showed the kids how effectively three different sunscreens — including a spray variety — blocked harmful ultraviolet radiation.

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High-school science teacher Kelly Haggard handed wooden pinhole projectors and manila envelopes to groups of students in hopes that clouds would clear and enable them to track the path of the eclipse. He acknowledged that the probability of a clear viewing had diminished but said students would still value their experience.

Learning is “a visceral process,” he said.

“We might not see anything, but they’re going to remember it forever,” Haggard said. “They’ll see pictures of it when they get back.”

Clouds broke for the first time about 11:40 a.m., just as the partial eclipse began for viewers in Troy. A class of fourth-graders who donned their eclipse glasses expressed excitement as they saw the curve of the moon begin to move across the sun. Their excitement returned each time the clouds cleared to show another glimpse of the eclipse.

A brief rain shower drove the younger students into the school’s cafeteria, but they returned outside about 1 p.m., about six minutes before the eclipse was projected to reach totality, which was expected to last for about 2½ minutes.

Cloud cover blocked any view of the sun’s corona, but other experiences accompanied totality. The sky quickly grew dark, as if twilight had fallen early, though an orange and red patch of sky was still visible far to the west. The temperature dropped several degrees. Scores of chimney swifts gathered and began diving toward a chimney that rose from the school building, seemingly convinced they had missed their normal roosting time.

Nearby fireworks also lit the dark sky.

Troy USD 429 schools don’t start until Aug. 30, but the school was listed as a public eclipse viewing area on Doniphan County’s website, said junior/senior high school principal Josh Hevel.

“We’ve got people from all over the country here,” he said, naming Seattle, Miami and San Diego among places from which people viewing the eclipse from the school hailed.

Contact reporter Samantha Foster at (785) 295-1186 or @samfoster_ks on Twitter.