KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - A fourth-grade class at a suburban Kansas City school erupted in wonder when they tried on their solar eclipse glasses for the first time and turned toward the sun for an eclipse "practice.''
"The sun looks like the moon!'' "It's really dark!'' "There's just a little circle of light!'' "It's just a speck up there!''
The students at Clardy Elementary School in North Kansas City were practicing the proper use of the glasses Friday in anticipation of Monday's solar eclipse. Their teacher, Christy Lister, had gone through slides detailing how and when to wear the glasses, how to care for them and proper behavior during the eclipse. It was only the third day of the school year, but the students had already talked about eyes, the solar system and other eclipse-related topics.
The district's teachers and administrators began planning for the big event last May and worked through the summer on age-specific activities for the district's 20,000 students. The activities will include kindergartners using beads that react to ultraviolet light from the sun, while others will conduct experiments measuring atmospheric changes during the eclipse or create solar viewers with 3-D printers.
U.S. schools along and near the coast-to-coast path where the sun will be totally blacked out by the moon during the eclipse are taking widely varying approaches. While some districts are seizing the opportunity for ready-made lessons, others are closing for the day or keeping kids inside because of safety concerns.
In Idaho, districts in and around Twin Falls are using the day for science education, while many districts in the eastern part of the state either canceled school or will start the school year a day later. In Wyoming, the Laramie School District moved the first day of school to Tuesday after the superintendent said he had "grossly underestimated'' the event's significance.
North Kansas City found the educational opportunity irresistible, said Jill Hackett, a deputy superintendent.
"Students will gain a lot more by watching, discussing what they see with their teachers and other students,'' she said. "I think it will be extraordinary.''
Smaller towns expecting huge influxes of visitors have concerns about transportation. The primary worry for many districts is the risk of eye injuries for students who gaze at the sun without properly wearing the right glasses.
In St. Joseph, Missouri, district officials decided to close schools out of concern that the expected tens of thousands of out-of-towners could tie up traffic.
"We were concerned with the bus routes, there would be kids sitting and waiting for hours for their buses,'' said district spokeswoman Bridget Blevins, who said city and county officials "strongly urged'' the district to close.
Citing warnings of possible eye damage, Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, canceled recess Monday and Broward County public schools in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, canceled all outdoor activities during the eclipse. Schools in Crocker, Missouri, will be closed after the district's insurance company required a liability waiver from parents and students concerning possible eye damage.
Other districts made changes to help students see the eclipse, even in areas where the moon won't totally cover the sun. The New Albany Floyd County Schools in southern Indiana plans to extend the school day 15 minutes, timing it for the height of the eclipse. Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., will take students to its football field to see the event.
In North Kansas City, students can stay inside if they or their parents request it.
"We will be mindful of the exposure and making sure we're safe,'' Hackett said. "We plan field trips all the time, we teach students how to properly use tools, how to do experiments in labs. It just requires safety, very clear instructions and careful monitoring.''
For 9-year-olds Kyle Hurt, Jack Leech and Sierra Geary, the chance to see a solar eclipse brought nothing but excitement.
"It's going to be a great event for us, for the school and for even the whole country,'' Kyle said. "I can't wait.''