The darkest part of the event, around 2:36 p.m, came and went with the sun behind the cloud, but around 2:40 p.m., the cloud moved and gave cheering students a view of the event, the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse since 1918. The moon blocked about 96 percent of the sunlight at the darkest point in the Tri-Cities. Even before the cloud moved and the eclipse was visible, the playground at the school darkened and a gentle breeze cooled what minutes before had been a humid August afternoon.
“We trained,” second-grader Cahill said of a Friday mock viewing. “We came out here and practiced putting on our glasses and looking at the sun.”
Cahill and fellow second-grader Mathias Guffey, also 7, said they spent much of last week learning about the eclipse, how the moon could cast a shadow on Earth because the much larger sun is farther away from Earth than the moon. In class, they used an Oreo for the moon and a vanilla wafer to represent the sun.
“The sun looks smaller because it is far away,” Mathias explained. “We have been practicing how to put on our glasses.”
The students in all classes marched out of school one class at a time, holding their eclipse glasses or eclipse “moon masks” and putting their heads down. After getting in place in the playground, they kept their eyes down until they put on the glasses, a couple of false starts occurring before the eclipse finally was visible. Students also noticed that the street lights turned on during the event.
Before the cloud moved but near the darkest part of the eclipse, cicadas in the trees surrounding the school began their chirping normally reserved for summer sunset and evenings.
“I wish that cloud was not there right now,” said Hillary Laughlin, a fifth-grade teacher in her fourth year at Johnson. “Think about when you normally hear that” cicadas sound.
Her students made moon masks, taking the regular paper-framed eclipse glasses and integrating them into a paper plate with a nose slot.
“We actually did this (moon mask) today,” said Will George, a 10-year-old student in Laughlin’s class. “We had the chance of seeing it (the eye-damaging sunlight) above the glasses.” Will said. “We understand the solar eclipse can greatly damage your eyes.”
Major Dawson, a 10-year-old fifth-grader in the class of first-year teacher Fanta “Ms. Fanta” Henderson, said aside from viewing the actual eclipse that learning about what colors the eclipse might appear and how bright it was were the most interesting things he learned. Henderson also pointed out the sounds made by the cicadas.
Kingsport City Schools and Rogersville City School remained in session Monday and provided glasses for eclipse viewing, while Sullivan County Schools were out the whole day and Hawkins County Schools dismissed at 11:15 a.m.
“It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Preston McMullins, 10, and a student in Henderson’s class.