TWIN FALLS — With fewer than 15 minutes until the best view of Monday’s solar eclipse, the sunlight was fading and the temperature was dropping at Oregon Trail Elementary School.
Teacher Rebecca Bingham watched as her first-graders sat on a grassy lawn outside. They looked up at the sun wearing masks — solar eclipse glasses attached to paper plates.
“Now it’s getting really dark outside,” Bingham told students, pointing out the goosebumps on her arms.
Nearby, dogs barked and ran back and forth in a fenced backyard facing the school. Oregon Trail’s exterior building lights turned on automatically as it got darker. Children chatted excitedly — a few getting scolded for running around instead of paying attention to the eclipse.
“Oh my goodness, boys and girls, we’re almost there,” Bingham told her class just three minutes until the 97 percent eclipse — as close to totality as Twin Falls would get.
Oregon Trail fifth-grader Hailey Hildebrandt, 10, learned about what an eclipse is from her parents and at school. But actually seeing it in person was different than she expected.
“I thought it would be going faster, but it looks like it never moves,” she said.
Hailey said it was “really cool” seeing the eclipse. “We’ve learned it doesn’t happen very often.”
The Twin Falls School District bought 11,000 pairs of solar eclipse glasses for students and employees to use Monday — the third day of school. It cost the district 42 cents each, paid for by elementary and secondary curriculum budgets.
Many schools had eclipse-themed lessons planned, too, including science experiments, astronomy and history.
Plus, Twin Falls School District students received sack lunches Monday, instead of eating in the cafeteria, to offer more flexibility for watching the eclipse, district spokeswoman Eva Craner said.
At Oregon Trail Elementary, teacher Shannon Youngman took her fifth-graders outside a few times throughout the morning to observe the eclipse’s progress.
Some students’ jaws dropped as they put on their solar glasses and looked at the sun for the first time. They made comments like “wow” and “that’s so cool.”
Back in the classroom, Youngman talked with her students about how astronomers throughout history — including in ancient China and Babylon — studied eclipses. Student read electronic materials on their laptop computers.
After reading about ancient Chinese beliefs, Youngman asked her students: “When we went outside, did it look like the sun was being eaten by the moon?” Her students nodded.
But now, they’ll have their own memories and insights from watching an eclipse, a little more grounded in science and history.
Fifth-grader Thomas Kington, 10, knows what an eclipse is, how long it lasts and what it looks like. He said: “It’s pretty cool that the moon can cover up the sun.”