Few teachers still use transparency sheets in an age when they can project images from laptops to interactive screens, but boxes of that clear film stashed in classroom cupboards are filling a new need.

Attached to headbands created on schools’ 3D printers, the clear sheets serve as face screens for health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lanier Elementary teacher Renee Powell started using the school’s 3D printers to create N95 masks.

Her doctor sent her the design file, and she tried it while she was at Lanier the week after spring break, helping to distribute meals to children while the building remained closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Powell posted a photo on Facebook, and requests started rolling in.

The 2019 winner of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Extreme Classroom Makeover, Powell’s STEM classroom is well-equipped with supplies for science, technology, engineering and math.

Day and night

As the school remained closed, Powell took the five Flashforge printers to her house and set them to churn out a new mask about every four hours, waking herself to keep the machines working.

“It makes me feel like I’m helping in this situation,” Powell said.

She also has connected with Lanier Elementary fifth graders and their teachers over Google Meet while the school is closed. “It was good just to see their faces and see that they’re OK,” Powell said.

The teacher estimates the masks she has printed have made it to every hospital in the Knoxville and Maryville area, as well as other facilities such as assisted living centers and doctors’ offices.

“I’m trying to keep it to health care workers,” she said of the requests she has been filling, with a couple going to law enforcement officers, too.

People email or send her a message through Facebook, and she leaves the masks in a plastic tote on her porch for them to pick up.

Rolls of filament

A roll of filament for the printer, which costs $25 to $30, will make about 20 masks, and she has used about 15 rolls. Powell has been giving the masks away and hates to ask for money, but someone from ORAU set up a GoFundMe account to restock her supply. Powell said some of her colleagues from Lanier bypassed the website, ordered the filament through Amazon and had it sent directly to her. “We have a great sharing, caring staff at Lanier,” Powell said.

When one printer wouldn’t print to the height needed for masks, Powell set it up to create “ear saver” straps, which make elastic bands on face masks more comfortable. That machine prints six straps at a time in about 90 minutes. Powell had made close to 500 of those early this week, sending about 100 to Blount Memorial Hospital.

Sharing supplies

This week she started printing the headbands for face shields but still needed the clear guard part.

Powell knew transparency sheets would serve well. “I went to school and found four boxes of them,” she said. “I found two in my classroom I didn’t even know I had,” she said.

Powell shared transparency sheets with Maria Toncray, who brought STEM activities to Powell’s Lanier classroom three years ago. Today, Toncray teaches at Clayton-Bradley Academy, and along with three of her students is printing headbands.

Toncray was inspired by Powell’s social media post about making masks and a story on Maryville College professors printing headbands for the face shields.

“I was a medical laboratory technologist for years,” Toncray said, so she understands firsthand the value of those shields in protecting health care workers.

She arranged to take one of the private school’s MakerBot Replicator+ printers home and send others home with sophomores Hannah Rasmussen, Caroline Stedina and Jaden Bogert. Caroline and Jaden previously have used the school’s printers to make prosthetic arms for two children.

Through word of mouth, their face shields are going out to health care workers in the region, including Blount Memorial in Maryville, Covenant Health in Knoxville and Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic in Sevierville, Toncray said. “The requests have come through friends and relatives,” and others connect with the school.

“It kind of snowballed,” she said this week, with about 100 printed and plans to complete at least 50 more.

“I think it’s awesome that education has been able to partner with industry,” Toncray said, and the community members are coming together during the pandemic.

The Clayton-Bradley crew is using printer filament that normally would have been used for student projects, and received transparency sheets from Powell and other teachers, and even an office worker who raided her dad’s engineering supplies, Toncray explained, noting that Office Depot is out of the sheets.

While that school is closed, Toncray is using the Zoom platform to connect with classes. She gave middle grades students a 30-minute challenge to design a mask for themselves and their families using what they could find at home. One boy crafted his with two socks filled with napkins.

To send her forensic science students outside for a while, Toncray had them find their property on Google Earth, draw a crime scene on the land and then recreate it outdoors.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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