RI teachers team up to make smile- friendly masks

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Two Rhode Island women are making face coverings with a design they hope will change the way we communicate when wearing masks.

Linda Greco and Linda Harnois have known each other since they were young girls. The two both became teachers; Harnois is a retired English teacher at East Providence High School, and Greco is a first-grade teacher at Thornton Elementary School in Johnston.

Hoping to return to in-person classes in the fall after months of distance learning, Greco says she’s aware face coverings will be a part of the new normal in schools.

“And I just couldn’t imagine me covering up my mouth area when I’m instructing young children,” she said.

Greco says young children learn best through reading lips and facial expressions, saying it helps them gather clues and information. She got an idea to make a mask with clear opening so her students can see her facial expressions, and vice versa.

A few days later, an experience at a drive-through window set the idea in motion.

“When the wait staff asked us for the amount, we couldn’t understand him,” Harnois recalled.

“So we pulled out of the lot and looked at each other and said, ‘we have to do this,'” Greco added.

Using fabric from a local store, Harnois and Greco got to work on a design that includes clear vinyl built in so you can see someone’s smile. The vinyl is treated so it won’t fog up. They call it “The Communicator.”

Within hours of putting their idea on Facebook, more than 100 people reached out including teachers, daycare workers, and people with hearing impairments. The women said they heard from people as far away as California who wanted this kind of mask.

“Who doesn’t want to see a smile? A mask can be a very scary thing,” Harnois said. “You give a smile, you get a smile.”

The women said they’ll donate a portion of the proceeds from the masks to local schools.

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