[ teaching & learning ]

Together in totality: Eclipse Day brings out-of-this-world teachable moments for students and staff


almyra Macedon Faculty Association member Joe Perry had been waiting to see a total solar eclipse over the Rochester region since he started his teaching career in the city in 1998.

Joe Perry in front of Palmyra Macedon High School smiling with telescope ready for eclipse
Palmyra Macedon Faculty Association member Joe Perry has been waiting for this since he started his teaching career in 1998.
A few weeks before the big day, as forecasters were giving early weather predictions, Perry exclaimed, “If it’s cloudy in upstate New York on April 8, 2024, it will ruin my decade!”

Let’s face it, if there’s one thing you can rely on during the spring season in New York, it’s that the weather will be unreliable.

But despite cloudy conditions, Perry’s pocket of Western New York still experienced a spectacular celestial event that Monday: the region’s first total solar eclipse in 99 years.

For those on the path of totality, it was a rare opportunity to be plunged into darkness during the day as the moon passed in front of the sun.

“The next total solar eclipse that will happen in our area of New York state is 2144, so that means that even kids who were born last week won’t be alive for that,” Perry explained.

For years, he advocated to make sure students could not only view and enjoy the momentous occasion but do so safely.

As Perry knew in advance that the timing of the eclipse would begin during afternoon school bus runs, thus posing a transportation safety hazard, he worked with his local to submit a resolution to the 2022 NYSUT Representative Assembly urging NYSUT to request the State Education Department to include language in their 2023–24 school calendar strongly encouraging all school districts in the state to implement a modified school day on April 8.

Districts were ultimately allowed to make their own decisions, and most schools in the Rochester region, including Palmyra-Macedon Central School District, were closed on the day of the eclipse.

Along with several of his colleagues, Perry hosted a viewing party on school grounds for students, staff and community members.

“It is simply taking awe in the wonders of nature. There’s so much stuff out there that can distract kids and adults from that, but what science comes down to is observing, measuring and appreciating.”

Students and staff at Belleville Henderson CSD smiling in front of eclipse bulletin board while holding eclipse shirts and maps
Students and staff at Belleville Henderson CSD gear up to celebrate the total solar eclipse with eclipse maps and student designed eclipse T-shirts. From left: Sarah Fowler, art teacher; student T-shirt designers Maeve C., Delilah Z., Althea M. and Jaxon B.; and Heather Streeter, science teacher and BHTA president.
About two hours northeast of Pal-Mac, students and staff at Belleville Henderson CSD celebrated the full week before the eclipse, as schools were closed on April 8. Kids were given eclipse glasses and student-designed shirts purchased with a NYSUT Solidarity Grant and community donations. The grant also helped pay for eclipse maps in every classroom and special eclipse cellphone photo filters.

Belleville Henderson Teachers Association President Heather Streeter teaches high school science courses. “I remember when I was in second grade going outside in the spring to watch a partial eclipse and it was one of those things that made me interested in science. So, I’m thinking now if one of our students is impacted by viewing this, who knows how far that experience will take them. It’s just one of those opportunities to remind our kids how much school and learning can be fun.”

Streeter and her colleagues, members of the district’s Eclipse Committee, had been ramping up for this day for the last few years. They brought high school students to SUNY Cortland’s planetarium and took younger students to the Museum of Science & Technology in Syracuse. They also coordinated to bring Cornell Cooperative Extension’s mobile planetarium to their campus for students to enjoy a journey through space. And BHTA delivered additional eclipse glasses to senior citizens living at the Henderson School Senior Apartments so they, too, could safely enjoy the momentous occasion.

“The whole event is just a really memorable, once-in-a-lifetime teaching moment that reenergizes you as an educator,” Streeter said.

But while it may be a one-off show for many, Perry is already planning his trip to see another total solar eclipse happening in Orlando, Fla. — on Aug. 12, 2045.

Unfortunately for Perry, hotels don’t take reservations 20 years in advance.