For a few sunny and then slightly darker minutes Monday afternoon, students at Park Hill Elementary got to view history.
As the Great American Eclipse made its way across Derby at about 12:45 p.m., about 375 children gathered outside on the playground with eclipse glasses gripped to their heads.
“Look down. Keep your eyes covered,” second-grade teacher Dawn Pickens directed as they got into place. “OK, if you have your glasses on, you can look up.”
And then, oohs and ahhs.
“That’s so cool!”
“It looks like a banana!”
“It’s really happening!”
A tiny sliver of the sun was visible through the dark lenses. The children looked skyward for only a few seconds at a time. Teachers reminded them to look down and rest their eyes between glances.
Parent volunteers helped monitor students to keep them from looking up without glasses. Several took photos of the children in their eclipse glasses.
“We’re super excited for the kids to come outside today,” principal Sandy Rusher said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Earlier in the day, Rusher led an all-school assembly to review eclipse procedures and emphasize the importance of listening to teachers during the viewing.
“I made them all pinky-swear, saying ‘This is important, guys. We really need to follow directions,’” she said.
The Derby district just south of Wichita secured about 7,500 eclipse-safe solar glasses – enough for every student and staff member – with donations from area businesses and some district funds. Even so, the district required families to return permission slips if they wanted their child to participate in viewing activities.
Schools were not yet in session in Wichita, the state’s largest district. But districts in the Wichita area and around the country had been grappling with how to take advantage of the near total solar eclipse – the first in 148 years – and protect student safety. Some schools planned to keep students indoors, citing concerns over the potential health risks of viewing the event.
At Park Hill Elementary, about a dozen children whose parents did not return paperwork or opted them out of outdoor viewing activities watched televised coverage in the school library.
Outside, first-grader Carter Trapp oohed and ahhed along with his classmates when he first glanced at the sun. As teachers explained the phenomenon – the moon sliding in front of the sun, blocking its light – Carter nodded.
“The moon is doing a very good job,” he said.
Fourth-grader Collin Drumm said, “It looks like a smile. … I want to look at it for an eternity.”