Face mask: check.

Face shield: check.

Other personal protective equipment (PPE) as required: check.

These are not the New Age teaching tools that Kettle Creek Public School teachers imagined would be necessary to impart life lessons and make a difference in students’ lives.

No one imagined they would need voice amplifiers either, but this week – with teachers wearing face masks and face shields in classrooms – the devices became an important element in local educators’ adaptation to the new, evolving COVID-19 school environment.

Without voice amplifiers, it is difficult for the teachers and students to communicate. The formidable combination of shields over masks makes it extremely difficult for sound waves to reach teachers and students alike. Voices are being strained, educational opportunities lost.

“With COVID-19 and the whole mask situation, I find it hard to hear and it’s hard for the children to focus because they can’t see your lips moving and eye contact doesn’t always work,” said Esther Wendel-Caraher (Mrs. W.C.), Principal at Kettle Creek Public School. “We’re adopting them. I think it will be another way people adapt in schools during COVID-19. At a time when communication is so important, anything we can use is a welcome tool.”

Mrs. W.C. purchased a rechargeable voice amplifier for $70 last week, experimented with it indoors and outdoors, then bought 18 for other staff members who acknowledged the benefits.

The model she chose can project voice across the room. The microphone headset can be positioned near the mouth, with a flexible gooseneck design. The headset sits on top of the head. The device also comes with a belt strap that can be worn around the neck or on belt loops. The built-in rechargeable lithium battery provides five to eight hours of amplification.

“Not all schools have the budget to buy them, but I’m going to put that through on my budget,” added Mrs. W.C. “This year, I think it’s a priority.

“A few staff members noticed their voices getting tired,” she said. “I have had a few staff say it’s really hard to project. For teaching, without your voice, you can’t do your job. It’s your livelihood. Vocal fatigue is a workplace hazard.”

Connecting through verbal communications is especially important, for example, at the primary level, when the young children are accustomed to gathering on the carpet, snuggled up close to the teacher. “That proximity is very important to what we do. That gentle voice can be used to create that bedtime story kind of feeling. When you whisper, children listen so much more intently.”