Heather Sims knew that she would have pulled her daughter, Abby, out of school to watch Monday’s solar eclipse that she calls a “chance of a lifetime for kids.”
But the Shawnee Mission schools parent learned this spring that she wouldn’t have to — Crestview Elementary Principal John Bartel had already planned a field trip that would take the entire school north to the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth so that students could view the eclipse in totality.
“Everyone is very excited,” Sims said. “For a school to really think that far ahead and to make this happen ... to have a principal that would think of that ... we are very blessed.”
The opportunity appears to be unique for students in the Shawnee Mission School District, where individual schools decided whether to incorporate the eclipse into curriculum, as well as whether students would view the phenomenon outside.
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It’s a consideration that Kansas City school districts will not have to make again until 2205 — when the next solar eclipse is expected to pass over the Kansas City area. For many local school officials, centuries is too long to wait for another opportunity.
While schools in Lee’s Summit, as well as charter schools such as Académie Lafayette and University Academy, chose to cancel classes on the day of the eclipse, most local public schools opted instead to build the eclipse into their school days and plan learning activities focused on the phenomenon.
On Monday, schools both inside and outside the line of totality — the place where the moon will be seen to totally cover the face of the sun — will view the eclipse with special eyeglasses and participate in learning activities built around the event.
Johnson County schools are expected to be able to watch the moon cover at least 99 percent of the sun’s surface, though experts say these viewers’ experiences will difference from that of onlookers farther north who will take in a total eclipse.
Still, school districts such as Olathe Public Schools said they were focused on the eclipse as a learning opportunity.
“Our business is student learning,” said Jessica Dain, the Olathe district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. “More than anything, we wanted our teachers and our students to experience this together. There is no better science lesson than all us together viewing the eclipse.”
In North Kansas City, where students and staff will be able to view a total eclipse, teachers have also planned a variety of activities for students.
They will be measuring temperature, wind and other atmospheric changes during the eclipse and observing changes in nature when the sky darkens and the temperature drops.
Students will also create solar viewers with 3-D printers and work with solar tubes that inflate under heat.
Of course, astronomically named snacks, such as MoonPies, Sun Chips and sundaes are planned, too.
Parents, said North Kansas City school spokeswoman Susan Hiland, can join the fun.
“Parents are welcome to come to the school and experience the eclipse with their kids,” Hiland said.
Most area districts have prepurchased glasses for students and staff — that’s 35,000 pairs in Olathe, 22,000 in North Kansas City and 29,800 in Kansas City, Kan., according to district officials. While some schools may have extra pairs, parents should bring their own glasses if they can when visiting a North Kansas City school site, Hiland said.
In Olathe, staff created a website with tips to help students and parents prepare for the event.
“What was paramount for us was that this is a monumental historic event,” Dain said. “We really wanted to catapult on the opportunity to turn this into a learning event not only for the students, but for all the adults that support learning, as well.”