HONOLULU (KHON2) — The pandemic continues to put a strain on schools across the nation, and Hawaii classrooms are being hit particularly hard with sinking test scores and staffing shortages.

One local teacher is taking matters into her own hands and refuses to let the pandemic stop her students from learning as much as they can in her class. She says while they can’t sing… they can still make music!

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“Since the COVID restrictions, my music students have not been able to sing safely in our classroom,” said Sarah Michaelis, a teacher at Waikoloa Elementary & Middle School.

Every year, Michaelis surveys the students before class begins about what they want to learn and do in music — normally singing and performing would be a given. However, since the pandemic hit, the Department of Education has restricted chorus students from using their voices, and this year is no different.

Michaelis is hoping to change that with a creative alternative that has students excited.

“This year, after telling the students the sad news about singing, I mentioned that we could learn to read music using another instrument (besides voice),” she said. “Many music classes use a recorder, however, this year I thought of seeing if I could get enough keyboards for the students to use.”

Michaelis, whose background is in singing, has also taught basic piano. She said an “overwhelming number” of students were excited about the challenge to read music and learn a new instrument.

“I figured it was worth a shot,” said Michaelis. “I think it’s really important for students to actually practice and ‘use’ what they are learning, so if we can’t sing, at least we can produce music.”

Keyboards, she says, are portable, fairly inexpensive and would allow students to ‘plug in and practice’ solo using headphones, even when they are in class with others. Click here to donate.

“In addition, the keyboards are fairly easy to clean compared to something constantly touching the mouth,” said Michaelis.

Michaelis has been teaching for 25 years, spending her last 14 years at Waikoloa where she serves as an advisor for student council, diversity club, and college and career club, which is currently on hold due to the pandemic. In addition to music, she also teaches computers and technology.

While this fundraiser started in January, it’s not the first time she’s tried to get more supplies.

“I started fundraising the minute I became a teacher,” said Michaelis. “When you teach out of a ‘core’ subject area, it is often hard to find funding for the creative and unusual projects that students crave.”

Since Michaelis has always been an advisor to clubs, she tries to do as many service projects and fundraisers as she can each year. She has sponsored canned food drives, penny wars, and completed everything from catalog sales, bake sales, car washes, dances, craft fairs and “lots of grant writing.”

“I think since the pandemic, funds and attention have been put on other issues, equally important, but it has made other supplies more difficult to obtain,” said Michaelis.

The pandemic, she adds, has changed both students and teachers in a lot of ways, creating a lack of connection when kids weren’t physically in school.

“Teachers and students were alone in our classrooms all day talking to screens of students, something we are not used to,” she explained. “The joy of being and learning together was just not the same with all that was going on in the world.”

Today, they have students in school every day, or at least the ones that can attend. Naturally, there are some families that are exposed to COVID, so there are students who are frequently missing due to quarantine.

“The fear for everyone’s health and the trauma the kids have experienced in their own lives has taken a real toll on all of us,” said Michaelis, who mentions that a student tragically passed away recently. “As someone who has been in charge of planning activities for the school for many years, the lack of gathering and events that give the students something to look forward to has been very concerning, especially for middle schoolers.”

In addition to raising funds for keyboards, Michaelis is overseeing two fundraisers for student council: Virtual See’s Candy storefront and Valentine Grams for students. She says the school is aware of all the donations and grants, and administrators have always been supportive.

“I know of several other teachers at this school and others who have used the DonorsChoose site for fundraising for everything from books to snacks for their students,” said Michaelis. “My husband, who teaches at Kohala Middle School, recently received a grant for equipment to start an outdoor movie club.”

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So far, Michaelis has completed five projects on the DonorsChoose platform since 2019 when she raised enough funds for an iPad to support her computer/tech class. Her fundraiser for keyboards will be her sixth project and will likely not be her last.