Ten-year-old Aria Smith said that she and other members of her family had been preparing for weeks for Monday’s solar eclipse.

That preparation included watching videos and discussing the circumstances that lead to celestial events. Still, she said, none of that had her completely ready for what the actual experience was like.

Smith was among dozens of students at Lompoc’s Clarence Ruth Elementary School who stepped outside of class Monday afternoon to get a view — with special glasses, of course — of the rare occurrence in which the moon passed between the sun and Earth.

“It was really cool how it looked,” the sixth-grader said. “Other people were saying that it didn’t look that cool or it just looked like the moon, but to me, just the way the moon was and how dark it was and just the ‘orangey-ness’ of the background — I just think it looked really cool. And it’s cool to see what our solar system looks like from here on Earth.”

Clarence Ruth was one of several spots around the Lompoc Valley that hosted group viewings.

More than 100 people gathered at the old Maple High School near Vandenberg Air Force Base for a viewing party hosted by the Vandenberg Astronomy Club, and other Lompoc Unified School District campuses held viewings for students.

All LUSD campuses were asked by district leaders to keep students inside Monday morning unless they had approved eyewear to view the eclipse.

Clarence Ruth Principal Judie Denton said her school was able to get its protective glasses free of charge from MOXI, a science museum in Santa Barbara, after a group of Clarence Ruth teachers took part in a training session there.

Denton led the students, mostly fourth- through sixth-graders, outside in small groups to view the eclipse through what was a mostly cloudy sky over Lompoc.

“It’s a science experience that you don’t get to have all of the time,” Denton said. “So it’s important to have those opportunities to live them. Science is real life; it’s not just what’s in a book.”

Eleven-year-old Adrian Rocha, also a sixth-grader at Clarence Ruth, said he appreciated the experience.

“This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this in person,” he said. “It was cool to get a firsthand experience with something like this.”

About 120 students at Lompoc High School were also able to view the eclipse with protective eyewear.

Jonathan Taylor, a teacher at Lompoc High and also the adviser for the school’s astronomy club, provided a few pairs of the protective glasses and let students out in small groups to share them as they looked up at the sky.

Taylor said he believed it was a great learning experience, though he noted that the conditions caused him to scale back some of his lesson plan.

“I had a more elaborate plan but the clouds (interfered),” he said. “The shadows weren’t big enough for me to really project an image of the sun, or of the eclipse, so we just used the glasses and passed them. It was pretty casual.”

Smith, who noted that she has always had a personal interest in astronomy, said Monday’s event is one she won’t soon forget.

“It’s something I can talk about for the rest of my life,” she said.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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