Teacher aides Julyssa Gaytan (left) and Rebeka Tovar were thrilled to witness the eclipse at Argo High’s football stadium. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Teacher aides Julyssa Gaytan (left) and Rebeka Tovar were thrilled to witness the eclipse at Argo High’s football stadium. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

‘Impressive and beautiful’ eclipse wows Argo students

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Argo High freshman Erna Urquico called the eclipse “impressive and beautiful.” (Photo by Steve Metsch)

By Steve Metsch

Argo High School freshman Nicholas Kokarczyk was feeling pretty good after his solar eclipse debut.

“I’ve never seen one personally. It looks like a big frowny face now,” Kokarczyk said around 2:15 p.m. Monday. “It’s better than I expected.”

Kokarczyk, 14, of Justice, was joined by roughly 1,900 of his fellow students in the football stadium bleachers, all of them gazing up at the sun.

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The total eclipse as seen in Grand Tower, Ill., by Willow Springs’ Michelle Jarosik, a teacher at Pleasantdale Elementary School in La Grange.

They gathered with teachers, administrators and staff to watch the first eclipse visible in the Chicago area since 2017.

Although Northern Illinois saw about 90 percent of the sun eclipsed by the moon – as opposed to the total eclipse seen down in Carbondale – it still left a big impression on Kokarczyk and others.

Students were orderly and attentive, although a few ignored advice and were seen sneaking peeks at the sun while not wearing the special sunglasses designed to prevent eye damage and provided by the school.

They had all watched a three-minute video explaining the eclipse before heading outdoors.

The next solar eclipse in America isn’t due for 20 years, but it won’t be seen in our area. You’ll need to travel to North Dakota or South Dakota to experience that one in 2044, according to NASA.

And with the next total eclipse not visible in Illinois until Sept. 14, 2099, it’s a safe bet that few of those gathered Monday will be around for an encore.

“These don’t happen so often, so it’s good students have a chance to see it,” guidance counselor Christian Johnson said.

Yes, Johnson, of La Grange, did wear his special sunglasses with cardboard frames and extremely dark plastic lenses.

Afterwards, Principal Brandon Cotter said “the kids were very well-behaved, so I think it turned out to be a very nice event. You couldn’t ask for better weather.”

Sunday’s clouds and rain gave way to sunny, bright blue and cloudless skies Monday.

Margie Wyroba, an Education Support Services teacher, enjoyed watching the moon slowly creep across the sun, blocking out its rays and giving the football field rather murky lighting.

“It’s a cool opportunity for the students. I love how the science department got the glasses and got everybody out here. The whole school,” Wyroba, of Orland Park, said.

Teacher Aide Rebeka Tovar, 23, of Justice, was an Argo student the last time we saw an eclipse here.

She vaguely recalled that 2017 eclipse. “I think it was cloudy that day.” But was eager to don her glasses Monday, adding, “I’m glad the kids are getting this experience.”

One of those kids, freshman Erma Urquico, called the eclipse “impressive and beautiful at the same time.”

Reminded that centuries ago, people were scared by a solar eclipse, thinking it had sinister implications, the 15-year-old from Summit said, “a lot of people still think so.”

“They think it’s witchcraft or something,” Urquico said. “Some of my classmates didn’t come for that reason.”

In the end, science beat witchcraft, at least in Summit.

The idea for Monday’s viewing party dates back a few months.

James Kantzavelos, chair of the math and science division, and Jeremy “JD” Daugherty, assistant chair of the science department, thought it made sense for the entire school to witness the eclipse, not just students in science classes.

Assistant Principal John Dagres agreed.

“Why not involve the whole school? It’s a huge event,” he said Monday.

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Education Support Services teacher Margie Wyroba called the Argo viewing party “a cool opportunity.” (Photo by Steve Metsch)

“We wanted to do this a few years ago (in 2017) but we ordered the wrong glasses. We had to scratch that,” he said.

This time, the correct glasses were ordered.

“We double-checked. We ordered more than 2,000 pairs,” Dagres said.

Many of the sunglasses were collected in blue plastic bins afterwards. They will be shipped to Latin America where another eclipse is due this August, Cotter said.

“We thought that was a really good idea,” Cotter said.

Keeping in step with the day’s solar theme, a deejay played sun-related songs like “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks and “Walkin’ On the Sun” by Smash Mouth.

Daugherty was smiling as kids slowly walked out of the football stadium.

“I think every single student looked at the sun with the glasses on. Every single student got to see the little bit of eclipse coming through there,” he said. “They’re going to remember that for years.”

Kantzavelos added: “They got to enjoy an opportunity they won’t see in the area for very long time.

Senior Juveria Abdullah, 18, of Justice, appreciated that opportunity.

“It’s nostalgic for me because I hadn’t seen an eclipse since fifth grade. I was 12 then. It was great being out here, seeing everybody letting loose, having fun and learning science,” she said.

District 217 Superintendent Dr. William Toulios said, “Not many high schools were doing this to my knowledge, and we thought it was a great way to get the students out to see this extraordinary event. The weather cooperated and it was a great experience for our students.”

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“It’s better than I expected,” Argo freshman Nicholas Kokarczyk (right) said Monday of the eclipse. (Photo by Steve Metsch) 

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