By Kenzi Murphy
For the past two years, we were required to wear masks everywhere. In restaurants, doctors offices, groceries stores and in lots of other places too. Putting the mask on had instinctively become muscle memory to us.
For months on end, high school students and teachers have had to wear masks in the classroom and in after school sports. It has become no surprise that wearing a mask for six plus hours, five days a week, could become a bit annoying.
Then on March 2, 2022, the mask mandate was lifted for all schools in New York State. For some students and teachers, this was a relief, but for others, it was a bit frightening.
Mia Minichello, a senior at South Jefferson High School, was a bit anxious about it at first, but she eventually got used to it.
“Having the mask mandate lifted has definitely been weird,” Minichello said. “Walking into school I felt like I was bare and missing something for a couple days, but then it was really nice to see everybody’s faces and smiles again. Overall, after everything that’s happened, it’s really nice to get back to some normalcy.”
It seems to be the normal response that at first it felt a little funky without masks, but over time students were glad that they didn’t have to wear them any more.
From a student athlete’s perspective, it’s a major plus to not have to wear the mask while practicing or competing in meets. Exercising with a mask on can be challenging and a big annoyance, so being able to ditch the mask is a relief for a majority of student athletes.
Grace Winchester, a junior at South Jefferson and also a member of her school’s track team, was glad that the mandate was lifted.
“I think that the mask mandate being lifted is great, especially when it comes to sports and communication,” Winchester said. “Sports is the best thing about it because running and doing workouts with the mask on was incredibly hard. But, I also noticed that I’ve been getting sick more since it’s been lifted. Overall, I am glad it was lifted because I feel like it’s done more good for me.”
Kennady Billman, a sophomore at Belleville Henderson Central School and another student athlete, was extremely happy to have the mandate lifted.
“Getting the mask mandate lifted was like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Billman said. “I actually felt free. But when masks were still mandated, they made sports so much harder than I thought they were going to be because I was constantly having to change my mask or keep pulling it up. So when the mandate was lifted, that was the first thing I was excited about: being able to do the things I love and enjoy them without a mask.”
Not only was Billman excited to not wear a mask during sports, but she was also excited to not wear them in school.
“Even in school when masks were required, no one was in a happy joyful mood,” Billman said. “Now, I get to see everyone’s smiling faces when I walk down the hall. Lifting the mandate was like a feeling of normalcy, slowly getting back to where we were.”
Alyssa Freeland, a teacher at South Jefferson High School, shared some positives and negatives associated with the mask mandate being lifted.
“The lifting of the mask mandate has been a relief for many students,” Freeland said. “There are still some students and some teachers, myself included, choosing to wear them all or part of the time. As a teacher, it is nice not to have to constantly remind students to pull up their masks, but I do also have concerns about students and some staff who themselves might be more vulnerable or have family that is vulnerable.”
Brenna Shepard, who is also a teacher at South Jefferson, found that the mask mandate being lifted was a relief.
“At first I was nervous. It was a big change when for the past two years we have been so cautious,” Shepard said. “From a personal perspective, it does feel wonderful to be able to see my students’ faces and I think they feel the same. It is giving us a sense of normalcy again, which after two years we are all craving.”
Shepard shared what it felt like from a personal perspective, but what how it feels from a teacher’s point of view?
“From a teacher’s perspective, it’s nice to not have to enforce that with my students,” Shepard said. “I would say for the most part, students were OK with wearing their mask the correct way, but there were also many kids that would not wear it correctly. It felt like having to harp on them for not wearing their mask properly was creating unnecessary stress and animosity. I am relieved to not have to be the mask police anymore.”
It seems that for both teachers, the mask mandate being lifted has been good for their students and themselves. They don’t have to constantly be telling kids to wear their mask the right way and it’s been great being able to see their faces again.
Overall, most students and teachers are excited to be back on the road to normalcy and be able to see everyone’s smiling faces again. It’s been a tough two years, but things are finally starting to look up.