St. Louis Solar Eclipse Expo

Penny Sicking, 6, and her 8-year-old brother, Charlie Sicking, gaze up at the sun with their new eclipse glasses on Saturday, June 17, 2017, at the St. Louis Solar Eclipse Expo at Queeny Park Recreational Complex in West County. Photo by Morgan Timms,

The kids of the ’60s had the Apollo Mission to inspire them to a career in science and technology. Today’s children in a long swath of Missouri will have a total solar eclipse, and schools are not letting this chance pass by.

For some St. Louis-area schools, eclipse lesson and logistics planning began more than a year ago. Multiple school districts are having all their teachers and staff dedicate Aug. 21, the day of the solar eclipse, to science activities.

“Every generation has had something that has pushed kids toward science,” said Karen Hargadine, a member of the St. Louis Eclipse Task Force who is overseeing education. “This could be the impetus for a student going into those science and technology and STEM-related fields, which is just so critical in our world today.”

The path of totality will favor schools south and west of St. Louis, but schools across the region are making the eclipse part of a district-wide curriculum.

School districts including St. Louis, Pattonville and Lindbergh have ordered eclipse glasses for all students and teachers. Some, like Parkway, bought glasses for all staff regardless of whether they are teachers, including nurses and bus drivers.

“We wanted everybody to have the opportunity, really knowing that it’s this real-world opportunity within the context of our school day,” said Stephanie Valli, a Parkway curriculum coordinator. “So we were trying to capitalize on that for everyone.”

Some schools are inviting parents to watch the eclipse with their children. Other schools are planning on busing their students to areas where the total eclipse will last longer.

For example, the Parkway School District, which has been planning for the eclipse since April of last year, plans to bus students from McKelvey Elementary, the only school in the district that’s not in the path of totality, to another school to see the full eclipse. To research for eclipse planning, district officials had calculated the start and end times for the partial and total eclipse for each Parkway school and saw that McKelvey would get less than a second of total eclipse.

There’s high demand for the primary tool that every student will need to watch the eclipse: eclipse glasses. The St. Louis Eclipse Task Force invited schools and teachers to apply for free eclipse glasses by a June deadline, but it was flooded with requests for thousands more glasses than it had available.

The group has given out 36,000 free eclipse glasses to schools, but there’s a waiting list of requests for at least 64,000 more. The group won’t be able to give free glasses for those students unless it receives more donations or sponsorships. When distributing glasses, the group gives priority to schools with high percentages of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, a measure of poverty.

“I’d love to get glasses in the hands of every single student,” Hargadine said.

The task force has also published a webpage of lesson plans, activity suggestions and other resources for teachers. Activities include having students measure temperature changes throughout the eclipse, because the disappearance of the sun will cool the Earth. Teachers can also have students measure changes in wind direction and wind velocity. Younger students can make their own pinhole viewers to watch the eclipse safely.

The Lindbergh School District, which has been planning for the eclipse since February, has created its own website for its teachers to plan their lessons.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jill Lawson, director of assessment and student services at the Lindbergh School District. “We want to make sure they get that full eclipse experience.”

​Kristen Taketa

@Kristen_Taketa on Twitter