By Kristina Rex

WESTWOOD (CBS) – The sight of kids running through the soccer fields outside the Sheehan Elementary School in Westwood together feels almost normal. “It will be fun seeing my friends not just on a screen,” Sydney McGovern said. She and her friends are eager to get back in the classroom come September.

To do that, they will have to wear masks throughout the day with some breaks. It’s a requirement announced by the Baker Administration and Department of Education for safe in-person learning.

“It’s probably going to be hard to wear them all day,” Sheehan elementary student Erin Gannon said.

“Wearing a mask isn’t that fun, but if it means going to school, then it won’t be bad because you get to learn and say hi to your friends and teachers,” her friend Sydney McGovern added.

Their teachers are just as excited to get back in the classroom – even with social distancing, masks, and more hands-off learning techniques.

“I don’t really see a way around it,” said Maggie Dowd, a fifth grade teacher at Sheehan. “It’s going to be difficult and it’s going to be weird, but so was remote learning in the beginning and I think there was a period of time in which that was very uncomfortable and then people adapted.”

One of several challenges for educators will be creating a comfortable environment for all students — including those in special education programs — with mask-wearing full time.

“If you had asked me a few months ago, I would’ve said ‘how can we do this?'” Paula O’Dea, the principal at St. Augustine School in Andover told WBZ. “We know it’s going to be a major adjustment and even more of an adjustment for our special education populations.”

Even so, O’Dea said online learning was an adjustment, too, but one teachers and students took in stride. So as far as masks and social distancing go, she said, “We’re going to do our best to put a plan in place that we can execute in September so we can meet the needs of all our students from our special ed population to our little ones in Nursery and Pre-Kindergarten.”

The reason young kids and their teachers are willing to be uncomfortable in classrooms during a global pandemic? “We know that being in school face to face learning is what it’s all about,” O’Dea explained. “The best learning takes place when you’re face to face with your teachers.”

Governor Baker seemed to be in agreement in his press conference announcing the educational guidelines Thursday, saying, “Continued isolation poses risks to the mental and physical health of students, and to their educational development.”

Baker said more information about fall sports and busing will be released in July.

Kristina Rex

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