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Solar eclipse an experience of a lifetime for South Florida kids

Posted at 8:19 PM, Aug 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-22 04:09:54-04

It was an experience of a lifetime.

On Monday afternoon, millions across the country watched the much anticipated total solar eclipse. It’s the first eclipse to move across the entire country from coast to coast in almost 100 years.

RELATED: More solar eclipse coverage

Palm Beach County Schools excused absences today so that kids could enjoy the eclipse from home.

But for the ones that remained, teachers made sure to make it an amazing experience. Hundreds of schools across South Florida organized watch parties for students.

At Jupiter Middle School of technology, over 1,000 kids stayed home from school with about 400 staff and students taking part in eclipse activities.

For 8th grader Taylor Butler, it was a perfect 13th birthday present.

“It’s really cool to think that something that happens every 99 years is happening on my birthday!" she said.

She's one of hundreds at her school witnessing history during the solar eclipse.

“No child left inside, lets get them out there," said science department co-chair Linda Pike.

Pike worked with other teachers over the summer to craft a solar eclipse lesson plan and make a safety video for the students. They also managed to stretch 100 pairs of solar glasses between more than 400 students and staff.

“It is a once in a lifetime experience, the fact that this eclipse is covering the continental U.S. This will be the most viewed solar eclipse in probably history," she said. “I was so excited when the district finally lifted the ban that we could do something if we wanted because as a science teacher, I was like, 'Oh come on!"

About 80 percent of the sun was covered by the moon here in South Florida, casting a dim light over the area. Students used NASA-approved solar glasses to view the eclipse and only students who had signed permission slips from parents could take part in the viewing.

"It kind of just looks like a crescent moon but it's the sun," 8th grader Natalie Hart described to WPTV while watching the eclipse.

Like most schools, it was a thin crowd thanks to the school district approving excused absences. 

“There was three kids in one of my classes. It was really strange," said Hart.

But the smaller crowds provided a better one-on-one learning experience for some students.

“There’s like 4 or 5 people here. With the hour we have with the teachers, I think it’s a great experience with the student and teacher," said Butler.

By the droves, parents pulled their kids out of school around lunchtime so that their kids could share the experience at home.

“It’s pretty cool! Once in a lifetime opportunity for them to actually get to experience it, even better," said parent Stephanie Ledbetter, who picked up her two daughters from school.

The next total eclipse will happen on April 8, 2024 but Florida will not be in the path, with the zone of totality moving from New York down to Texas. By then, Pike hopes at least some of her students will be on a path to science.

“We need to foster a love for science and I think things like this are what spark it for kids — a real, hands on experience," she said.

Many schools are requiring students to do projects and assignments based off of their solar eclipse experience.