When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close in the spring, Pierson Elementary School music teacher Deanna Locascio was wracking her brain trying to come up with ideas to make the new virtual world that was now her students’ reality more interesting and exciting.
She scrolled through Pinterest boards, and visited blogs and Facebook groups put together by other music educators across the country, until she came across one idea that resonated. A teacher in California had posited the idea of re-creating a version of the popular TV show, “The Masked Singer,” with faculty in the school. On the show, celebrities come on stage disguised in elaborate costumes and sing a song, and then are voted off until a winner is crowned. Ms. Locascio thought it would be a good way to liven up the school’s morning program, which has been online since the pandemic began.
She sent an email out to staff, and several faculty members responded, recording themselves singing songs each week and disguising their faces with a giant character emojis of their choosing. Each week had a theme — Disney songs, for instance — and the singers would also provide one clue to help students guess their identity. Ms. Locascio put all the clips together in an iMovie each week, and then posted them on the district’s YouTube page. Students were then allowed to vote for their favorites each week.
School librarian Heidi Wilson — who is teaching a fifth grade class this year — emerged as the winner in the spring, earning a small trophy for her talents.
Ms. Locascio did not have plans to revive the competition after the last school year ended, but in recent weeks, she started thinking about it again. The elementary school is now in the middle of a special holiday edition of its Masked Singer competition, which will only last four weeks, with a winner set to be announced on December 23, the last day before the holiday break.
“This round is just a fun way to spice things up and give a little bit of happiness that everyone needs,” Ms. Locascio said. “Right now, we’d usually be preparing for winter concerts, and we’re all really missing that aspect of things.”
Ms. Locascio threw together this version of the competition quickly, but had 12 willing participants in the building. The first three were scheduled to be voted off on Wednesday, December 9. The new episodes air on the school’s YouTube channel on Wednesday, and students can register their votes up until 3 p.m. on the following Friday. The group will be narrowed down to a final three by December 21. Ms. Locascio will “unmask” each participant after they are voted off.
Ms. Locascio said the students have enjoyed the competition and trying to guess who each singer is. It is not limited to teachers, but rather is open to anyone who works in the building.
“It’s pretty funny because people really have a hard time figuring out who’s behind each mask,” she said.
There’s also an element of surprise that keeps the competition exciting.
“In the spring, the unicorn was so far ahead every single week, and I thought for sure the unicorn would win, but the rabbit (Ms. Wilson’s emoji) won, and a lot of it has to do with song choice,” she added.
Ms. Locascio said she’s had positive feedback from parents and other teachers as well.
“I think, at first, everyone was like, what is this? But they really look forward to it now,” she said. “It was just something fun and different at a time when we were all really scared and tired. I would run into parents who would tell me that it was the highlight of their week.”
It has been equally enjoyable for the “contestants.”
“It was something I looked forward to doing every weekend and spent so many hours choosing songs and practicing them,” Ms. Wilson said, adding that she chose songs popular with elementary school students, like “In Summer,” sung by Olaf the snowman from “Frozen,” “Quiet,” from “Matilda,” and “The Duck Song,” her finale number which was a big hit with the students. “My kids were involved in the process as well, and it became the highlight of the week for my family. It was a lot of fun during a time that had us all locked in our homes and so far outside of our normal chaotic schedules.”
Ms. Locascio said there will inevitably be some song overlap this time around, since the holiday is the only theme they are working with. While the singers provided clues about themselves the first week, Ms. Locascio said they planned on sharing their favorite holiday traditions as the clue for the second week of competition.
She said she’s glad the competition has been able to boost the spirits of the students, staff and larger Sag Harbor community.
“It’s just a fun way to get creative with what we’re dealing with,” she said. “It’s added a bit of cheer and something to help us get through the next few weeks.”