Preparing for the solar eclipse gave Paetyn Allerton a new appreciation for the natural world.
Allterton, a fifth-grader at Meadow Point Elementary School in Aurora, never considered science her favorite subject. Less than two weeks into the 2017-18 school year, however, the 10-year-old was full of enthusiasm as she discussed the prospect of collecting data and parsing numbers. She wore a wide, constant smile as she worked with a group of peers to assemble a weather balloon that would cruise the skies high above Meadow Point to measure temperature, UV levels and other statistics.
"I've never really liked science, but since I got into preparing for the eclipse, I think I like it more," Allerton said. "I'm liking it more as we go."
Allerton wasn't alone in her excitement. Thousands of students, teachers, staff members and parents gathered at buildings across the Cherry Creek School District's 108 square miles to watch the solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Crowds filled the Stutler Bowl on the Cherry Creek High School campus; they gathered on lawns and playgrounds at elementary and high schools; CCSD Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull joined his kids at Creekside Elementary to watch in wonder as the sun slowly disappeared. The natural phenomenon was a chance for all members of the Cherry Creek Schools community to come together, to share in the grandeur and beauty of a solar eclipse that reached more than 90 percent totality in the Denver metro area.
At Meadow Point, parents stood alongside teachers and staff members on the sprawling lawn near the playground. District administrators stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Board of Education members, teachers and students as all gazed into the heavens through eclipse glasses provided by the district. Elementary students and adults offered similar responses – beaming grins and exclamations of wonder were common to all in attendance.
"What an opportunity for our students," said CCSD Board of Education Member David Willman, who was on hand at Meadow Point to watch the progress of the moon across the sun. "The board really values this kind of work … Our focus on STEM in all of our schools is exciting; I'm proud of our work. We've listened to our community and our staff in making the best possible choices for our students."
The significance of the event wasn't lost on Meadow Point Principal Tom McDowell, a self-professed amateur astronomer who responded to the disappearing sun with all the enthusiasm of a kid at a baseball game. McDowell was just as excited about the learning opportunities the eclipse offered to students of all ages at Meadow Point – kids from all grades reported to the lawn with their eclipse glasses, toting pencils, paper and an eagerness to record their observations.
"This is science in action," McDowell said. "It's certainly not something we can control. It's really an opportunity for kids to see that there is something bigger than us. We are going to react with it with curiosity and excitement," he added, pointing also to the school's emphasis on safety and its distribution of free eclipse glasses. Those resources were made possible in part thanks to support from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation. "We've received great information from the district about eye safety and preparation – they've been really thoughtful about providing glasses for everyone."
The school's reaction to the eclipse included a school-wide weather balloon project. As eclipse-themed rock tunes blasted from speakers set up on the grass, a group of Meadow Point fifth-graders worked with STEM Coach Dustin Vick to assemble and inflate the balloon equipped with GoPro cameras, UV sensors and other tools to measure the effect of the eclipse at heights of up to 100,000 feet. That data will figure into lessons about the natural world for Meadow Point students.
The eclipse aligned with the kickoff of a new school year for Cherry Creek Schools, and teachers worked hard to make the most of the opportunity. As students reported to new classrooms and met new teachers the first week of school, they also started an in-depth examination of the science behind the eclipse. Meadow Point teacher Heidi Huebscher worked to incorporate eclipse-related curriculum in the first week of class.
"They're looking at simulations online, they're looking at videos, they're looking at articles so they can answer all of those questions about the eclipse and have a background knowledge," Huebscher said less than a week before the eclipse. "As a teacher, it's always exciting to make that real-world connection. The best part about it is that we actually get to go outside and experience it."