Here's how Vermont schools are planning for the 2024 total solar eclipse
Schools across Vermont are preparing for the sky to go dark on Monday, April 8. The total solar eclipse will be visible for a large portion of Vermont in the afternoon, and Vermont is expecting a high level of traffic during the event.
For many schools, the eclipse will hit totality right as they usually let students out for the day, says Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the Vermont Agency of Education.
“Unfortunately, the timing of totality is ... a really tough place in the time of day for schools,” Fisher said. “Which is kind of like right in that area — either right around dismissal, or even right after dismissal. And so it's, in addition to being an awesome educational opportunity, there are sort of like operational and even, you might say, safety considerations.”
Some school districts have already announced that they will dismiss students early that Monday, including Essex Westford School District, Harwood Union School District, Missisquoi Valley School District and Champlain Valley Unified Union School District.
"In addition to being an awesome educational opportunity, there are sort of like operational and even, you might say, safety considerations."Ted Fisher, Vermont Agency of Education
Maple Run Unified Union School District — which serves the St. Albans area — will also be releasing students early.
Maple Run superintendent Bill Kimball has been working with other superintendents in the Champlain Valley Supervisory Union to look at eclipse data and build a plan.
“When you look at the data, the traffic backups really begin about two hours prior to the totality event,” Kimball said. “But the traffic afterwards is really, really bad and can extend three or more hours in rural areas. And areas that are more urbanized, the traffic is not as bad because there's just, basically, it's better road infrastructure. So we've all agreed that we're going to end school early that day and get kids home.”
Kimball and some other school leaders sought advice from the Vermont Astronomical Society. They say road safety is a big priority, with cars stopped on the sides of the roads common during eclipses.
“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” Kimball said. “So that's what we've been working on first and ensuring that. And then I know, second, at least in Maple Run, we've been talking about, ‘How do we integrate this event into a great learning opportunity for our students?’”
Jack St. Louis, president of the Vermont Astronomical Society, said safety is the top priority for the group leading up to April.
VAS will be conducting educational outreach in February and March at schools and libraries to help prepare.
Some schools, including Maple Run schools and schools in the North Country Supervisory Union, have invested in eclipse glasses for their students. And while it’s early for many teachers, Kimball said he knows there’ll be lessons highlighting the cosmic event.
One Vermont teacher, though, has been preparing for this event for years.
Rita Ciambra is the astronomy teacher at Peoples Academy in Morrisville, a high school in the Lamoille South Unified Union school district.
While students will be released early for the eclipse, Ciambra is making sure her students are engaged with the scientific phenomenon of a total solar eclipse.
“People, not just little kids, don't have a good grasp of how really coincidental it is that the sun is so much bigger than the moon, but the sun also happens to be exactly, like, 400 times further than the moon, so they have the same apparent size,” Ciambra said. “I try to explain to my students, like, if we were anywhere else in the solar system, we would never see this. There would never be a total solar eclipse like this.”
And Vermonters won’t get this experience in the state again until 2079, so Ciambra has really been hyping it up to her students the past few years. Three years, actually, when she asked the administration to purchase solar eclipse glasses for every student.
“I emailed my principal and I was like, ‘We have to order solar eclipse glasses now’ … and he was like, ‘Did you mean like, 2022?’” Ciambra said. “I was like, ‘No, like, 2024. … We need to order these now because they're gonna get sold out because it is a huge deal. Like, we got to start planning.’”
Ciambra will teach a solar eclipse unit with her 10th-12th grade students this semester to get them excited for what’s ahead. Then she’ll work with them to brainstorm activities, questions and education plans for younger students. Her astronomy students will then help with outreach to elementary students in the district to help get them excited about the cool — if not possibly confusing — experience of the sky going dark.
And while the students may not be in school at the time of the eclipse, Ciambra will be.
“I'm going to be kind of posted up on this hill right next to the building. And I'll have my solar telescope there, and that's where I'll be observing from,” Ciambra said. “So my astronomy students, or kids I've had in the past in astronomy, are welcome to stay and observe kind of as a little group, if they want to. So that's an option for them, but it's not required.”
Ways to engage
For students that will be released early, here are some ways to engage with the eclipse (in addition to viewing with Ciambra behind Peoples Academy):
In Burlington, the ECHO center will host activities and programs on and leading up to the day of the eclipse.
At the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, there will be day of programming on April 8, including a live broadcast with But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids host and executive producer Jane Lindholm and astronomy expert Mark Breen.
Community events are also scheduled in St. Albans, Middlebury and Worcester, according to the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing.
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