Never look directly into the sun. It's advice we're all given from a young age. This coming Monday is the one exception to the rule, when people all over the country will be donning special glasses and staring up at that big, gaseous ball in the sky to witness something rare — a solar eclipse.
While the path of the total solar eclipse — stretching from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina — will only cross over a small stretch of Kansas in the most northeastern corner, a partial (and mostly complete) eclipse can still be viewed no matter where you are in the state.
In Newton, the partial eclipse will begin just after 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 21, with maximum darkness (nearly 94 percent obscuration) expected around 1:04 p.m., according to nasa.gov. The partial eclipse will then end at approximately 2:32 p.m.
Given that the last total eclipse occurred in the contiguous U.S. in 1979, local educators and other centers for learning know what a treat this is and are planning to take full advantage of the opportunity.
"It's a pretty rare opportunity and I just remember as a kid having that opportunity," said Burrton High School science teacher Roger Duell, "and it's neat that we'll be able to do it as a school."
Duell has taken lead in arranging viewing plans at Burrton High School, securing the eclipse glasses for all students, while he noted the rest of the staff is looking to make the most of the special occasion as well — with plans to wear festive, Hawaiian shirts and make mini moonpies to snack on during the eclipse.
Having the opportunity to take a lesson outside the classroom (viewing will be in the high school courtyard) is one Duell jumped on and one he admitted anyone can take advantage of, simply by looking up at the sky on Aug. 21.
St. Mary Catholic School Principal Philip Stutey is glad to have this chance as well, noting students and faculty will assemble on Friday to go over procedures and protocol. Members of the Newton school will then head out with their buddy classes Monday afternoon during the 15 minutes of peak obscuration.
Not only will it be a unique experience, but it is one Stutey said the school is blessed to have as students and staff begin a new academic year.
"That's the best kind of learning, to kick off the year for students," Stutey said. "It's right at the beginning of the year when they're already excited to come back, they're already excited about learning, and then you have a real life opportunity of not only are we going to talk about it and learn about it, but we're going to go outside and actually watch it and discuss it and see it and observe it. Just that real life learning opportunity is fantastic."
Other school districts around Harvey County are leaving the planning to individual teachers — like USD 373 in Newton, with eclipse activities to be handled on a building-by-building basis. Administration in Sedgwick purchased eclipse glasses for all students, but like Newton, just how they approach the eclipse viewing will be left up to the individual teachers.
Meanwhile, in Hesston, the efforts have been spearheaded by community organizations — with the library taking charge. Hesston Public Library Director Libby Albers secured a grant earlier this summer to be able to provide eclipse glasses for all students in USD 460.
Additionally, the library is planning several events the from 12 to 2 p.m. the day of the eclipse, with a viewing to be followed by a "sunny" story hour and similarly themed craft projects (like solar pizza box ovens) going on throughout the day — while the library has also been engaging the community on the topic in the months leading up to the eclipse, ramping up the anticipation.
"It's exciting. It's all anybody's been talking about for weeks. We've pulled all our books off the shelf that have anything to do with with the sun, space, outer space. They're getting fresh eyes on them," Albers said. "It's an exciting time to take a look at something that's maybe outside of our own local politics or our own nation's politics and look up into the sky and see something a little bit bigger."
Newton Public Library also plans to host a viewing party going on from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Monday and will have a number of glasses available for those who attend. IT Supervisor Nathan Carr noted a short presentation about the solar eclipse will be held before and after the event, so as not to "interrupt it with talking."
For anyone interested in observing the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, safety is stressed. As the Harvey County area is not in the direct line of the total solar eclipse, solar filters (i.e. eclipse glasses) or handheld solar viewers must be used at all times when viewing the eclipse. More information on best and safest viewing policies — including a list of vendors of solar filters and viewers — can be found at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.