By Rob Hunt and Scott Slade

SOUTH MADISON COUNTY — For many Americans in the path of Monday’s total solar eclipse, it was a monumental event. This reality was not lost on local schools, many of which let their students step outside for a few minutes, don the protective eyewear, and gaze up at the astronomical occurrence taking place in the sky above.

On Monday afternoon at Lapel High School, the students and teachers were dismissed from class to view the nation’s first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years. The historical significance was not lost on the students who were able to stare at the eclipse thanks to protective glasses provided by the school corporation.

“When I first heard about it, I was really excited to get to see it,” freshman Sophia Rogers said. “I was really happy that the school provided (glasses) for us.”

Possible dangers of watching the eclipse with the naked eye were widely publicized. The dangers of retinal damage are similar to looking at the sun on a normal day for a prolonged period of time. Lapel High School Principal Chad Kemerly said the school had taken precautions to ensure the safety of students during the event.

“We’ve prepared our kids,” he said. “The teachers have spoken with the kids about how to behave and what to do. We’re going to have a lot of supervision, and teachers will be out there with the classes in small numbers.”

Kemerly added that there seemed to be little concern from parents or students about the idea of the corporation to allow the students to view the eclipse.

“I have not had any negative feedback; it’s all been positive,” he said. “The kids are excited, the teachers are excited and we’ve not heard anything negative from parents. We asked them to let us know if they don’t want their kids to participate, and we’ve not heard anything negative.”

Classes at several South Madison Community School Corp. school buildings took time to learn about eclipses and step outside to view it live.

At Pendleton Elementary School Intermediate, the students couldn’t contain their amazement when they were led outside by their teachers at about 2:30 p.m. and allowed to look up at the eclipse once they had their special glasses on.

“Cool,” “Wow” and “Oh, my gosh” were just some of the phrases that could be heard from the groups of fifth- and sixth-graders standing on the sidewalks just outside the front doors.

Some of the students had been watching NASA coverage of the the eclipse in their classrooms prior to coming outdoors.

Clouds threatened to block the view as the time for students to head outdoors approached, but they broke up just in time to allow for the observation.

Sixth-grade teacher Jessica Hagan said the eclipse fits with the classroom curriculum, and that later in the year “we’ll be able to reference back to this, use it as an actual live example.”

She said prior to going outside Monday, her class talked about the basics of what an eclipse is. Later in the year, “We’ll go in deeper.”

Some students from the South Madison Community School Corp. left school to view the eclipse.

Adam Dutton, 8, and Maddie Dutton, 10, students at East Elementary School, watched the eclipse with members of their family on the grounds of Alvin D. Brown Memorial Swimming Pool, where local parks department employees arranged a viewing party.

“I’m happy; I’m excited about it, I’m excited for it to be dark and stuff,” Adam Dutton said just as the moon had started to cross the sun.

Adriana Simon, a freshman at Pendleton Heights High School, was sprawled out on a towel at the pool, sporting the special glasses, watching the sky while also taking pictures with her phone and posting them on SnapChat.

“I just feel it’s a pretty good experience for pretty much everybody,” Simon said. “I think it’s cool — I don’t study space or anything, but it does fascinate me.”

Adriana’s mother, Melissa Hollingsworth, said her daughter was looking forward to the day for a while. “I heard several times this weekend, ‘It’s so important to me, Mom.”

Kemerly said he was happy with the decision of the Frankton-Lapel School Corp. to take this initiative.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this,” Kemerly said. “For Superintendent (Robert) Fields to allow us to do this, it’s a great opportunity.”

Junior Gabe Crouse enjoyed the experience.

He said the event inspires him to study science more and hopes it will have the same effect on many of his classmates.

“It probably sparks interest in a lot of people,” he said. “Especially now when we’re trying to figure out what we want to do and study after high school.”

For Lapel science teacher John Maryan, who spent as much time looking up as anyone, that is all he could ask for.

“Anything that excites them about the world around them helps us 100 percent,” Maryan said. “Then you start asking questions. It’s what got me into science, was just wondering what the world is like around us. It’s neat to see that they’re all excited about it.”

For those interested in the next total solar eclipse, they won’t have to wait long. All of Indiana is in the path of totality, meaning Hoosiers will see a 100 percent eclipse, on April 8, 2024, less than seven years away.