Students at Cherokee Elementary School witness the eclipse

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Aug 21, 2017 at 9:40 PM

After weeks of anticipation, students and faculty at Cherokee Elementary finally got to view the solar eclipse, which reached 97 percent totality at 2:37 p.m. Monday.

Nearly 400 students remained at the school to view the eclipse with their classmates, while others went elsewhere with their families. As the students caught their first glimpse of the eclipse, they were instantly mesmerized.

Fourth-grader Blake Irwin said it was worth the wait. He said nothing compares to seeing it in person, which he said was “a lot better” than simply watching the event on video.

“It was really neat,” Irwin said. “The temperature changes, the animals — they’re all acting crazy — you can hear the crickets …”

Principal Mary McIntyre said the weeks leading up to the eclipse gave teachers a chance to teach the students more about astronomy and the historical significance of the eclipse.

Above all, McIntyre emphasized the importance of safety, making sure all of the students knew to keep their glasses on as they viewed the eclipse. Before the students went outside to view the event, she held a presentation reminding them of what an eclipse is and the risks of taking off their viewing glasses.

“A lot of the younger ones didn’t really understand it at first, but they’ve all finished projects in their classes to get some basic education about the sun, the moon and the Earth,” she said. “They’ve been so excited.”

When she asked the students what would happen without the viewing glasses, many replied, “You could go blind!” in unison.

“We really preached (the importance of) the glasses,” McIntyre said.

The students were well aware that this was a historic moment for the region and that it could be a long time until they get to experience it once again, according to McIntyre.

She said she was glad to share this experience with her students.

“It really is once-in-a-lifetime, and I really love to see kids see something historic and really be a part of it,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre also had a special playlist for the event at Cherokee, playing songs such as “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Ring of Fire.” As the sun started to come back in full-view, McIntyre played “Here Comes the Sun,” and the students walked back inside to chatter among themselves before heading home.

In order to catch the next eclipse in 2024, local residents will have to travel as far as Little Rock, which is in the path of totality.  

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