ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- Paula Roskamp is a Grade 3 teacher at St. Anne’s Catholic School in St. Thomas, Ont. and she has found a way to make the return to class a little friendlier.

Inundated with news stories full of anxiety, stress and worry surrounding back-to-school, Roskamp wanted to ease some of that uncertainly for students as they return to an unfamiliar setting.

In early August, when she learned that teachers and students would be required to wear masks in school, she began searching for ‘fun masks’ to wear so that the kids could stare at something interesting while she taught all day.

“I then ordered some custom-designed masks from a neighbour’s home business. The day after I placed my order, the announcement was made that school staff must wear medical masks,” said Roskamp.

Discouraged by this news, but not wanting to give up on finding a creative way to connect with her students, she began researching if any ‘fun’ medical masks existed. That's when she stumbled on a website about a non-profit initiative called Faces Behind Masks (FBM). 

It's an initiative that began in Tel-Aviv, Israel, in May, when nurses and doctors had to cover up with masks and shields, which meant their patients couldn’t see their faces clearly.

Founder of FBM, Rafi Albo, decided to help connect digital printing companies around the world to hospitals who would then print large smiling face stickers for medical staff to wear on their medical personal protective equipment (PPE), like gowns or scrubs.

After its initial success, FBM has now done this in 35 countries including Brazil, Holland, Mexico and the Philippines. Their mission was to bring back the human connection between health-care workers and their patients. 

“This sounded cool, so I reached out by email to Rafi a few weeks ago to ask if he had ever considered doing this initiative with schools. He hadn't, but he was excited about this potential idea and forwarded my email to a volunteer, named Katherine Lorriman, in Orangeville, who has since helped me get the ball rolling for St. Anne’s School,” said Roskamp.

Since then, Roskamp has connected with Cory Stuart, president of a local printing business called Impressions Printing, who has offered to help bring the idea to fruition.

Impressions Printing has donated lanyards, sleeves and offered to print double sided staff photos for all 79 members of St. Anne’s.

Roskamp hopes “Kids will feel connected to their [educational assistants, early childhood educators], secretaries, librarian, custodians, admin and teachers at St. Anne’s, by seeing their smiles on our picture cards."

She says staff members have provided their favourite selfie and are thrilled to participate in this initiative.

Now she'shoping other schools will jump on board, that local hospitals learn about this initiative, and that other local printing companies will donate their services.

“The slogan and mission for Faces Behind Masks is to ‘Bring the Smiles Back.’ So, my hope was to allow the students to ‘see’ our faces every day during this unique school year experience, even with our masks on.”