By Carol Stiffler

Lynn Evans’ sixth graders wear their masks all day long except for lunch and recess. Their lockers are spaced apart in the Newberry Middle School, with an empty locker between each student locker. They sit at tables spaced around the room and have to cleanse their hands frequently.

Handwashing and sanitizing is actually scheduled into Evans’ day, and the class sanitizes their tables before heading outside for recess. That way, any germs on the table die while the class is playing outside.

Despite all the ways it is obviously different, Evans said this year feels like every other year of sixth grade she has taught.

“The kids have been amazing about wearing the masks, additional hand washing, and physical distancing with the occasional reminder here and there,” she said. “Kids are amazing like that… they take things in stride and will almost always follow the rules when you take the time to talk to them and explain the ‘Why’ behind it.”

It’s going very well overall, she said, though everyone struggles to hear and understand each other while speaking through their masks. Evans has to project her voice more than ever, she said, and she’ll be drinking tea all year long to soothe her throat.

The masks add one hurdle people may not have predicted: Evans didn’t really know what her students looked like until she saw them without their masks on picture day.

“I miss seeing their faces,” she said. “You can learn so much about a person by looking at their face. Our expressions give us away and tell if we are happy, sad, confused, etc. I will need to really stay focused on body language this year to be able to ‘read’ how kiddos are feeling.”

Even the kindergarteners are wearing masks well, said Stacy Price, Tahquamenon Area Schools superintendent and high school principal. Keeping those little noses covered can be a bit tricky, though.

“Teachers and students seem to be handling the extra safety measures well,” Price said. “It is time away from instruction sometimes, but we are hopeful that as a routine is developed we gain back that time.”

In band class, the only time students aren’t wearing masks is when they’re playing instruments – except for percussionists, who must wear masks at all times.

“Band is definitely a little bit different this year,” said Sara Perfetti, who teaches band to grades 6-12, and will run After School Choir once clubs are allowed to start. “The brass and woodwind players are all seated in straight lines, six feet apart – back and front and to the side – and are all facing forward instead of a curve like normal.”

Since they have to put their masks back on when they’re not playing, a student must pull a mask back over their face to be able to raise their hand and ask a question, Perfetti said.

It hasn’t affected the sound much, though.

“Sound wise, they are currently as strong as they have been the past few years, and when we get back the few that have chosen TAS Virtual, we will be bigger and stronger than ever,” she said.