The football field at Gainesville Middle School was transformed into a science laboratory for a few minutes Monday afternoon as sixth-graders, wearing those special eclipse glasses, took advantage of the opportunity to watch a once-in-a-lifetime event.
The event began a little after 1 p.m. for some sixth-grade science students who came outside the building, tried on their eclipse glasses and participated in some science experiments and learning other things about the event.
Around 2 p.m. all students with permission to view the eclipse walked to one of three athletic fields. The sixth-graders walked to the football field, where they found a place to sit near a sign marking the name of their fifth-period teacher. The students continued to measure data and talk with friends, but mostly they were looking to the sky to check the progression of the moon’s movement in front of the sun.
The sky began to gradually darken and a cool breeze was felt throughout the field. Lights, triggered by darkness usually reserved for night, illuminated.
“I thought it was really cool when it got darker and then those lights came on and it was like at nighttime,” said sixth-grader Susie Brewer. “It was not completely dark, but it was getting darker and darker. The feeling of the change is so weird. It makes you think it’s nighttime and then it goes back to normal.”
Jared Avila, another sixth-grader, called the eclipse “amazing.”
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when it actually happened, how it got dark and cooler,” he said. “It felt so cool.”
Liliana Bautista said she was surprised that the breeze made it a little cooler as the eclipse grew closer to its maximum impact.
“I thought it was just going to get dark,” she said. “I kind of knew a little bit of it because we need the sun for heat.”
Dominic Sabatino, a sixth-grade science teacher, explained that the cooler winds was due to the eclipse because “the uneven heating and cooling of the earth is what causes the winds.”
“It balanced back out,” he said, referring to the winds ceasing at the end of the eclipse. “But I liked it better when the breeze was blowing.”
Sabatino, who had said before the event he has witnessed two partial solar eclipses, said those were not nearly as good as Monday’s eclipse even though it was not a 100 percent eclipse in Gainesville
“It got a lot darker,” he said. “It was more of a sense that something is not quite right; something’s just different. This was a lot more interesting than a partial eclipse.”
Sixth-grader Andy Huynh wore his glasses, but watched most all of the eclipse through his iPad camera.
“It was really amazing because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “The best thing is how dark it got.”
Jane Woodall, who chairs the science department for sixth grade at Gainesville Middle, said the science teachers worked tirelessly to get ready for the event.
“We have a great group of science nuts,” she said. “We have been looking forward to this for almost a year.”
SCHOOLS EXPERIENCE LOWER ATTENDANCE NUMBERS
School attendance suffered Monday with a majority of students in both school districts either checking out early or not coming to school at all. Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for the Hall County Schools, said 27 percent of students were absent Monday and an estimated 55-75 percent of students were not in school when the eclipse began at 1 p.m. Bales said more students were absent or left early in schools where students were not viewing the eclipse outside.
Lynn Jones, spokeswoman for Gainesville City School System, provided numbers showing nearly 25 percent of students were absent and a total of 58 percent were not in school by 1 p.m. At Gainesville High, 1,669 of 2,157 students — 77.4 percent — were absent Monday.
School officials had sent letters home encouraging families who wanted to watch the eclipse together to do so.