The Princeton-Blairstown Center (PBC) welcomed 20 students from Trenton’s STEMCivics Charter School to its Venture Out program on Monday, April 8th, just in time for the total eclipse of the sun.

PBC’s Venture Out program provides equitable access to high-quality outdoor education experiences for middle school students in the Trenton School District.  The 30-hour residential program combines hands-on environmental education (EE) and social emotional learning (SEL) sessions that help students engage more deeply with science and the scientific method, understand that science is fun, and enjoy opportunities to explore future STEM careers.

PBC’s curriculum is fully aligned to the State of New Jersey’s middle school science curriculum standards. In 2024, PBC served 224 Trenton middle school students free of charge. 91% of the teachers and chaperones indicated their students demonstrated increased joy in being outdoors and 86% indicated they could take the lessons learned at PBC back to their school.

During Monday’s STEMCivics program, PBC’s Venture Out Coordinator Alicia Navarete took full advantage of the teachable moments provided by the total eclipse. Students learned about syzygy, which is an alignment of three celestial objects. She explained that “this happens about twice a month, as the moon completes its lunar cycle. When these align on the SAME PLANE a solar or lunar eclipse happens. Next time you see a full moon or new moon, remember that the sun, Earth and moon are all lined up in a syzygy.”

She also shared that we are able to see total eclipses due to a lot of lucky coincidences like the moon being 400 times smaller than the sun and 400 times closer to Earth than the sun. That’s why they look about the same size in the sky, and why the moon can block out the sun. Because the moon is slowly moving away from Earth, in about a billion years, there will be no more total eclipses.

STEMCivics students donned NASA approved eclipse glasses to watch the historic event from one of the Center’s grassy fields. As the moon slowly covered the sun, they marveled with statements like “Look at that, There it is, Wow, Amazing!” Even when clouds began to obscure the view as the total eclipse was reached, they still felt the temperature drop significantly, and noticed the hush as birds stopped singing. Several students and teachers identified the eclipse as their favorite part of their Venture Out experience.

Students also spent time engaged in teambuilding and problem-solving initiatives designed to build community; a forest ecology wildlife and adventure hike; a simulation called Coyote Call where they learned  how elements of any ecological system live in an intricate web of interdependence; and they took a deep dive into the life of an owl by dissecting an owl pellet to learn about their diets, digestive process, and the predator-prey process. In addition to experiencing immersive environmental science lessons, students had time to unwind at a campfire with s’mores, engage with their peers, and strengthen their relationships with their peers and teachers.

About The Princeton-Blairstown Center:

For 116 years, the Princeton-Blairstown Center, along with its precursor organizations – the Princeton Summer Camp and the Princeton Education Center at Blairstown – have been providing life-changing outdoor adventure experiences for youth from historically marginalized communities. Founded in 1908 by a group of dedicated Princeton University undergraduates and alumni, PBC has evolved into an outdoor education center that fosters the social-emotional development of young people, primarily from marginalized communities, through experiential, environmental, and adventure-based programming. Its core programs, including Summer Bridge, Leader-in-Training, and Venture Out, offer equitable access to high-quality outdoor learning experiences for BIPOC youth, empowering them to engage in self-discovery and create a more just world within their communities.

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