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Solar eclipse to occur Monday, schools to dismiss students later

Although Cairo and Grady County are outside the path of totality, we will still have a significant eclipse experience on Monday with an expected 90 percent of the sun covered by the moon at the height of the event.
For Grady County educators, the eclipse is turning into a hands on teachable moment and the school system is making sure teachers have time to help their students safely experience “The Great American Solar Eclipse.” Students and school staff will get special eclipse glasses and all local schools will extend their hours by approximately 22 minutes on Monday.
 “Safety is our first concern and the reason for delaying dismissal until 3:30 p.m. At this time, the eclipse will be in the waning phase and the sun will be brighter. Our teachers and staff will be reminding students about the dangers of looking at the eclipse without the glasses,” says Dr. Kermit Gilliard, Grady County school superintendent.
Messenger astronomy columnist Randy Rhea says in Cairo the moon will make first contact with the sun at 1:09 p.m. and continue its path across the sun’s face until it covers 90 percent of the sun at 2:41 p.m. “At fullest, it will be noticeably dimmer out but not dark,” Rhea explains.
After 2:41 p.m., the moon will continue on its path across the sun until it shrinks to its last contact with the sun at 4:06 p.m.
Safety during the event is paramount to protect eyesight. “At no time, even at 2:41 p.m., should you look directly at the sun. Injury occurs quickly,” asserts Rhea.
Cairo optometrist Dr. Clair McCaskill also urges extreme caution when viewing the eclipse, warning that since the sun will be much less bright people may feel a false sense of safety and stare at the sun longer than normal. Dr. McCaskill says, “Although it may feel more comfortable looking at the sun because of the decreased light, exposure to the UV radiation is the same and can cause irreversible damage to the eyes.”
She says certified eclipse glasses must be worn if people want to look up, and she says young children should be monitored since the glasses may fail to fit them properly.
Rhea says standing under a shade tree will also provide a viewing experience as “the light path through small openings in the leaves act like the lens of a camera” that will project hundreds of crescent shaped images of the eclipsed sun onto the ground.
Concern over the youngest school children in Grady County has pre-k teachers and some Kindergarten teachers opting to view the natural event in their classrooms via a live NASA feed.
“This decision was made due to the concern of the students not keeping the glasses on while outside. Each student will receive glasses to wear going to the bus, car, or walking home,” says Dr. Gilliard.
Cairo High School science teacher Jennifer Hand says she has a lesson prepared for her students. “In biology, students learn that oxygen is a product of the light reaction of photosynthesis. During the eclipse, students will conduct an experiment to see if the eclipse, which will decrease light intensity, affects the rate of photosynthesis. The eclipse is providing students with a real world opportunity to engage in authentic experimentation. There simply isn’t a better way to learn!” Hand says.
Although schools and teachers are offering special accommodations for the eclipse, students are not required to participate. “We want parents to sign the ‘opt out’ form if they do not want their child going outside to view the eclipse with the glasses,” says Dr. Gilliard. “Classrooms will be setup for viewing live from NASA or other live shots.”
If parents want to pick up their children from school before the eclipse, that will also be allowed. Gilliard says, “we ask that parents pick them up by 1:30 p.m. After that time, it will be more difficult to locate the student on campus due to the changing of rooms and going outside for viewing.”
Even students who travel north to experience the total eclipse will have an opportunity to make up any missed class work.

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