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School rules eclipse lessons on solar spectacle

Riverview's lunch on April 8 - Eclipse Day - was a chicken sandwich, tater tots, a salad and milk. Students were kept in the cafeteria while the eclipse took place. (Samantha Esquivel/YJI)

Brownsville, Texas, U.S.A. – High school students across America may remember a special moment that took place this year – the solar eclipse.

As solar eclipses are uncommon and astonishing to look at, many planned in advance to observe it, with organizations such as Brownsville Public Libraries and a local university organizing solar eclipse family events.

But administrators at Brownsville’s IDEA Riverview College Prep deliberately kept students indoors through the prime viewing time, depriving them of the experience.

“I was looking forward to this since a while ago, and it didn’t happen,” senior Derek Hinojosa said. “This type of event only happens very rarely and won’t happen for a long time. I had glasses ready, and my friends ready, too.”

Derek Hinojosa tries to see some of the solar eclipse on the way to the cafeteria. (Samantha Esquivel/YJI)

The eclipse passed over Brownsville – a mid-sized city on the Gulf of Mexico on the border with Mexico – starting about noon and ended shortly before 3 p.m.

When the skies were cloudy and the eclipse wasn’t yet at its peak, students were allowed to take an outdoor path to the cafeteria for lunch.

But by 1:40 p.m., during the peak of the eclipse at 92% totality, all Riverview students were in the cafeteria and not allowed to leave.

Senior Ana Paula Rodríguez is eclipse-ready. (Samantha Esquivel/YJI)

As the decision of whether students could go outside to observe the eclipse relied on the school, not everyone had the liberty to observe the fleeting eclipse.

While kids from other schools were posting about the eclipse on Instagram, Riverview students were stuck eating lunch inside the school cafeteria – despite having adequate protection and planning for the eclipse. 

“I felt it’s sad because not that many people got to experience the solar eclipse,” junior Ryan Benavides said. “I don’t really like how the school didn’t really let us see the solar eclipse. If you have protection to see the solar eclipse, I think they should allow you to see the solar eclipse.”

At Riverview, students typically go out of the building when transitioning between classes. They’re not allowed outside at other times.

Ryan Benavides tries to glimpse the eclipse outside of Riverview’s portable classrooms, but the clouds obscured any view. (Samantha Esquivel/YJI)

But on April 8 – the day of the solar eclipse – students were not allowed to go outside between classes. Only a handful of students who had classes in portable classrooms were allowed to leave the building.

“I do think students should be allowed to go and see major events such as eclipses or snow,” said Jose Pereyra, who teaches Advanced Placement English literature at Riverview. “I think being able to be outside and interact with nature is really important to learning, even for all across the board for different subjects. So I guess I can see it being slightly unfair to students not being able to go outside.”

Riverview Principal Adriana Ramos Alvarado did not respond to requests for comment.

According to a Riverview lunch monitor who spoke on condition of confidentiality, transitions from lunch-to-class at around 1:50 p.m. were taken inside school rather than the usual outside route to prevent retinal eye damage to those that did not have eclipse protection, and to guard against possible issues with parents.

Although the concern for retinal eye damage is understandable, this did not stop other schools from providing this learning experience to their students.

For instance, in Connecticut, The Taft School began planning eclipse viewing in January and took the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk, such as emailing parents and postponing sports to make the eclipse viewing a positive learning experience.

“We purchased all of the glasses in late March and they were not hard to get from amazon,” said Jeremy LaCasse, assistant head of school at The Taft School in Waterville, Connecticut. “We ordered 600 pairs of glasses. We used 580 pairs.”

Students at The Taft School looking at the eclipse. (Lia Arnold/YJI)

According to LaCasse, it was a “really neat communal moment” for the whole school community to experience the eclipse together. Sharing that experience became his favorite part of the event.

“A lot more people were interested than I initially thought,” said LaCasse.

Rachel Solomon, a junior at The Taft School, said that not only was the eclipse fun to look at but called experiencing it as an entire school community “memorable.”

In Urbana, Illinois, students at University Laboratory High School had an alternate schedule on the day of the eclipse, with shortened classes and a time period sectioned out for eclipse observation. The school also provided students with eclipse glasses.

“It’s a historic event,” said University Laboratory High School Director and Principal Elizabeth Majerus. “I think it’s really important for students to experience that because it’s a historical human experience.”

Not all Texas students missed out on the eclipse.

At Harmony School of Excellence in Dallas, eclipse glasses were provided as well so everyone could watch the eclipse together with their classes. 

“I do wish that the school had made more of an effort to involve students in seeing the eclipse,” said Pereyra, the Riverview English teacher. “I know some of the other school districts personally handed out glasses to students. The only reason I saw it is because they posted it online. So I think it is a really cool experience and I do wish we could have been a part of it.”

Watching an eclipse takes less than an hour away from class-time, but it leaves long-lasting memories and lessons to the students whose schools support it. Furthermore, eclipses are not a daily occurrence and can take years for another to come.

“I have never experienced an eclipse before and I wish I could experience one … in the future,” Riverview freshman Sarahi Ibarra said.

Majerus noted that viewing the eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It’s a huge lost opportunity for a school to keep students inside a building,” Majerus said. “There’s nothing you can learn in a half hour in a class than experiencing something that humans throughout human history have wondered at.”

Samantha Esquivel is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Matamoros, Mexico. She wrote this story and contributed most of the photos.

Simrah Khan is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Urbana, Illinois. She contributed to this story.

Lia Arnold is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Canton, Connecticut. She contributed to this story and contributed a photograph.

Courtney Mayore is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Midlothian, Texas. She contributed to this story.

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