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Students join eclipse watch

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Students at Nashville Junior High School watch Monday's solar eclipse through special glasses acquired from NASA.

By John R. Schirmer
News-Leader staff

For the Nashville Junior High School Science Club, Monday’s solar eclipse wasn’t just something to read about or watch on TV. The students were involved in planning eclipse watch activities at the school, collecting data on weather conditions during the eclipse, and – of course – watching the event when it occurred.

Science teacher and club adviser Brenda Galliher started planning for the eclipse in June, when she applied for a grant from Astronomers Without Borders to provide viewing glasses for NJHS students.

The organization gave the school 225 pairs of NASA glasses, and NJHS purchased 225 more to provide eye protection for all students, faculty and staff.

Nashville Elementary School students Adelene Westfall, Nancy Worthington, and Reese Worthington use special glasses to watch Monday afternoon’s solar eclipse. The eclipse was partial in Nashville, blacking out about 85 percent of the sun’s surface. It reached totality in a 70-mile wide path that extended from Oregon to South Carolina.

When teachers reported in early August, Galliher ordered faculty T-shirts commemorating the eclipse. At a staff meeting, teachers decided to teach about the event across the curriculum, from social studies to literature to science all other academic areas.

Galliher’s students were to “keep observations for NASA,” she said. There were no such records from the last eclipse which covered the nation in 1918, about 40 years before the formation of NASA.

After the eclipse ended, Galliher checked her instruments, which showed that the temperature dropped from 87 degrees when the eclipse started to 81.4 when it reached its peak at about 84 percent coverage.

“We’re recording that data,” she said. “Part of my frameworks will follow up in class and stimulate questions” among her students.

Galliher, seven Science Club members and several NJHS teachers discussed the eclipse and the school’s involvement at Monday night’s Nashville School Board meeting.

Principal Deb Tackett recognized the students and their participation. “Thank you for organizing everything today. I appreciate what you did.”

Assistant Principal D.J. Graham said that the faculty “felt this was an important learning opportunity. Mrs. G. [Galliher] took the challenge. We’re proud of what they did. They worked throughout the summer. Our staff worked across the curriculum.”

Four of Galliher’s eighth graders talked about their work during the board meeting. They included Nic Garcia, Jermarcus Fizer, Noel Dunham and Agusmar Villatoro.

The students said that in class, they had talked about why eclipses occur and asked whether earth is the only planet which experiences them.

They told about using “goggles to watch. We looked up with our goggles on and looked down with them off.”

Galliher used a Sunspotter which showed the shadow of the moon under trees in front of the NJHS building. Students also saw the crescent shadow on the ground as light came through leaves.

Students discussed the NASA app which they used to submit data to the space agency.

Lori Williams said her eighth grade math students used their skills to project the path of the next solar eclipse in 2024. The students found that the path of totality would cover about 9,000 square miles in this year’s eclipse and in 2024. Carbondale, Ill., will have total coverage both times.

Ninth grade literacy teacher Tammy Alexander said her students had discussed eclipses in the works of Shakespeare and other authors. Anna Smith volunteered to attend the meeting and tell what the students had done in class. “We talked about how eclipses are used in world literature,” she said, in works such as King Lear, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Macbeth.

Ashley Riggs said her seventh grade social studies students had a two-day eclipse unit. Seventh grader Savanna Jackson said they talked about eclipses and their effects on wildlife. They also watched related videos and plotted the eclipse’s path on a map.

Art teacher Twila Nichols and student Maritsa Rosa talked about artists which have used eclipses in their work. Art students will paint their versions of the eclipses during class this week.

Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Tammy Elliott said her students made eclipse cupcakes to mark the occasion. They shared the final product at the board meeting.