Niskayuna teacher’s eclipse party — 23 years in the making — draws hundreds

Niskayuna TA science teacher Paul Scott hosted students and community as they watched the eclipse.

Niskayuna TA science teacher Paul Scott hosted students and community as they watched the eclipse.

Talk about event planning.

Niskayuna science teacher Paul Scott began inviting students to a party for today’s solar eclipse back in 1994, when he started teaching.

“We got invited in 2006,” said former student Dan Gardiner. “I put in my calendar.”

So, apparently, did hundreds of other students, who, along with hundreds of community members, showed up on the lawn today in front of Niskayuna High School in Schenectady County to stare at the sun in all safe ways — pinhole boxes, special eclipse glasses, a telescope and sun spotter scopes.

As each person in line reached the telescope with a solar filter, former Scott student Ellie Lee, who is going to be a freshman in college, adjusted the scope as the earth rotated. She remembers her teacher inviting her to the 2017 party, although she said “It’ s a lot bigger than we expected!” Those able able to see the moon inching its way across the face of the sun through the scope exclaimed “Ooooos” and “Ohhhhh!”

Scott was even far more ecstatic than that. He kept looking around the crowd of more than 1,000 people sitting on the lawn, perched on lawn chairs, or staying cool under umbrellas. He grinned as student after student came up to him to let him know they hadn’t forgotten his invitation.

Kathya Nelson and her daughter take in the eclipse using a specially prepared telescope.

Kathya Nelson and her daughter take in the eclipse using a specially prepared telescope.

“When you’re here, you won’t forget it. There’s an emotional attachment,” said Scott, a member of the Niskayuna Teachers Association who made sugar cookies with eclipse frosting — what he called a “modified black and white cookie” to represent the roughly 60 percent eclipse that happened here in New York.

A look through the telescope at 2:44 p.m. — peak eclipse — showed a blazing yellow sun with a semi-circle of black laid on top of it.
Scott, who also brought all manner of drinks and snacks with the words “sun” in them, said the 1994 annular eclipse — when you can see a little sun outside the moon — entailed just a small school party. It prompted him to look ahead to the next solar eclipse and start planning.

As an earth science teacher, he said astronomy is a big component of the curriculum.

Eclipses are fascinating because “it shows science can predict things,” he said.

A few hundred years ago, when there was a total eclipse, many people thought it was freaky, strange and maybe even evil. People did not know what they were about.

But the cycles of the moon — 27 and half days — determine months. Many religious holidays are based on the lunar calendar.

Pinhole box

A pinhole box uses a tiny pinhole to safely project the sun’s image for viewing.

Many people on the grounds had large and small boxes to create pinhole cameras. The small sun spotter scopes were set up on the ground for all to use; the school owns four of them. Scott uses them for a one-week middle school summer camp he runs called the Engineering Institute for Women.

Bryce Colby, an art teacher and member of the Niskayuna TA who also serves as a high school girls’ soccer coach, saw people starting to gather on the school lawns by late morning.

“I can’t miss that,” he said. He wondered if perhaps students in his middle school art sketchbook program could use the eclipse as a crossover assignment.

They might start by looking at American artist Roy Lichtenstein, who painted two sun eclipse paintings.

The last total eclipse of the sun was in 1918 and the next one will be in 2024.

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