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'Mask up!': Students return to classrooms altered by pandemic

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Pontiac — On Thursday morning, just as the sun was rising above the trees on the sprawling campus of Notre Dame Preparatory and Marist Academy, a sight not seen in months unfolded: hundreds of students made their way inside school for classes.

Notre Dame, a private Catholic school, called its nearly 950 students back into buildings this week. It's among the first Michigan schools to allow students to return for in-person instruction since March as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

More:Detroit area Catholic schools reopen with in-person classes, wait lists

Wearing uniforms in khaki, blue and green, students donned face masks as they walked up to school doors with bags stuffed with first day tools such as hand sanitizer, books and snacks.

There they queued up outside the door and were screened one at a time by school officials performing individual temperature checks and COVID-19 screening questionnaires on a clipboard.

Students wait in line to have their temperature taken before entering the school on the first day of classes at Notre Dame Prep and Marist Academy.

And, one by one, they passed into school and found their first hour classroom.

Outside, a school official would occasionally spot a student with a mask in hand but not on the face or a student with a mask pulled to the chin and shout: "Mask up!"

The kids quickly covered up.

"It's behavior modification," Andy Guest, head of schools, said. "I think the key is constant reminders, and coaching and teaching. All the things teachers are used to doing in school. We just need to introduce and teach the new rules to kids and make sure they follow them."

Some students made a straight line for the school door while others lingered as they found friends and took a first-day-of-school photo.

Eighth graders, from left, Adri Lorenz, Grace Augilar, Bella Truskowski and Sophia Gust pose Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, for a photo on the first day of school at Notre Dame Preparatory and Marist Academy.

Amid the masks, temperature checks and general increased anxiety from COVID-19, parent Carolyn Lorenz took a first-day-of-school photo of her eighth-grade daughter Adri and three friends.

Each girl wore a face mask for a quick shot before heading into school to make the 7:45 a.m. start.

Lorenz said the morning was very rushed but filled with excitement about going back to school.

"They are very excited to be back and I am excited as well. Fingers crossed it just lasts," Lorenz said. "I am being very hopeful it lasts as long as everybody does what they are supposed to be doing, wearing masks, washing hands and keep their distance."

Most parents dropped students off at the sidewalk just outside school, others walked their students all the way up to the entrance and watched as they waited in line for their morning screening.

Mother Laura Pauwels walked her daughter up to school and stood back and watched dozens of other students making their way into the building, all with masks on.

"It's nerve-racking of course, but she is a freshman so I feel it is important for her to see her teachers, to have a feel for the classroom," Pauwels said. "I'd feel better with at-home online instruction. I am conflicted either way."

Pauwels said her daughter was excited and nervous to return to school but has developed more anxiety over the possibility of getting the coronavirus.

"I am hoping they get two weeks in," Pauwels said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com