Totality Awesome: S-E-M students, staff take in historic eclipse, together

Totality Awesome: S-E-M students, staff take in historic eclipse, together


NCSA Communications Specialist

The countdown was on, and, as the moon blanketed more and more of the sun mid-Monday, excitement on the Sumner-Eddyville-Miller football field grew in anticipation for the moment of totality.

No one, not the teachers, administration, students or community members, knew exactly what to expect, but they were gathered to take in a historic experience. Together.

Though the solar eclipse cast a couple minutes of supernatural darkness on the town of Sumner, the astonishing moment in a way signified a new beginning for the S-E-M Mustangs. The consolidated school in central Nebraska has spent the last few years undergoing a massive renovation after a bond passed by 60 percent.

“Last year was a tough year, and it tested us quite a bit,” said third-year Superintendent Kevin Finkey, who saw the first wall knocked down during his first year. “Initial expectations were to have it open by the next year, but between weather and some unforeseen problems, we were pushed back.”

Students were finally able to move into their new classrooms in December of 2016, thanks in part to teachers that were willing to give up a portion of their Thanksgiving break to prepare their rooms. Finkey and the S-E-M administration was worried about the effect those consequent distractions could have on test scores and assessments.

“We stayed consistent and that didn’t end up being an issue for us,” Finkey said. “Now that it’s open and ready to go, the kids are excited and really enjoying it. It has tied a lot of things together. We are able to have an elementary wing, a middle school wing and a high school wing, where it years past we were all over the place.”

Finkey is quick to give credit to the S-E-M community and its support for kids. They understand the importance of education, as was apparent in the bond voting, and are quick to lend support.

“When we have a ballgame, a music event, or something going on at the school, they just fill the gym,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter whether we are having a successful year or not, our supporters are always here for our kids.”

On Monday, they filled the football field. Almost everyone sported black “S-E-M Eclipse 2017” t-shirts, made possible by way of community involvement.

“We had some great community people that stepped up and helped us with the t-shirts,” Finkey said. “Teachers did a couple of different things with the designs of the kids’ glasses. Last week, we practiced what we’ll be doing during the eclipse, where principals talked through each step with the kids.”

The viewing, under clear skies, more than lived up to the hype. The event was carefully planned and prepared for by the school’s administration and staff, including high school science teacher Jean Pierce, who principal Bill Schmidt credited for taking the lead on planning last spring.

“Last week, we spent a lot of time inside, just doing sheet activities and various presentations,” said Pierce, whose science room received an impressive facelift itself. “The students would come up with things that I wouldn’t even think about. They were so excited last week, and that just carried into this week.”

Schmidt, who announced the event, kept the crowd informed on what to look at and when. The music playlist was clever and fit for the occasion, capped with The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” during the moment of totality.

“I learned a ton,” Schmidt said. “I never thought about it before, because I never taught it in school, all the different things you might see and experience. I’m glad the kids stayed here. I think it was a great opportunity and a lot of fun.”

On the southwest corner of the football field, 16th-year teacher Scott Williams intermittently engaged his students throughout the viewing. In just their second week of school, Williams said, students are still trying to sort things out and adjust. The solar eclipse got their attention, a nice springboard into the new school year.

“This is something that their parents, and even their grandparents, haven’t seen in totality,” Williams said. “This is something we want the kids to experience and to enjoy, so when they are grandparents, they can tell their grandkids and kids about it.”

When the moon fully covered the sun, a hush fell over the field. Laughter and loud chatter turned to awe.

It was an undeniably cool experience for everyone at S-E-M, an undeniably special place.