Ursuline Teens Create Face Mask Ear Guards for Healthcare Workers and Launch Food Drive

A nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia gives a thumbs up of thanks to the students at Ursuline Academy who made and donated dozens of “Sooth-ears” for hospital personnel. And UA Alumnae Relations manager Joanna Arat carries a bag of donated food for the Food Bank of Delaware.

Ursuline Teens in the Innovation Lab design their own headbands with ear guards

If you feel the urge to tear off your face mask after just a few minutes, imagine wearing one hour after hour while performing a stressful job.

That’s what faces nurses and healthcare professionals on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. But a chance encounter between neighbors and the involvement of several Ursuline Academy students in a service project is helping to make that job more comfortable.


Sooth-ears are headbands with buttons strategically sewn in place. The mask’s elastic can be put in place around those buttons instead of around the ears.

Madalyn Alivernini, an 8th-grade student at Ursuline, had not sewn before. But she jumped right in and created about 20 Sooth-ears.

“It was a really fun project to do,” Madalyn said. “Being under quarantine at home has given us all lots of extra time that we would have spent playing sports or working on service projects. So I was happy to help,” she said.

Ursuline 9th-grader Caroline Coyle made several “sooth-ears” to relieve pain healthcare workers experience with traditional earloop masks

The idea first percolated when Erin McNichol, Ursuline Director of Innovation and Leadership and Fine Arts Chair, was chatting with a friend and neighbor, Donna Masley. Masley happens to be an ICU nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as well as an entrepreneur (Masley Gloves).

Masley’s unit is the COVID-19 unit at CHOP.

Masley mentioned that she had been on Pinterest and saw the headband method of relieving the tension of wearing the mask around the ears. She had made a few for herself and her colleagues, and now dozens of others were asking if they could have some of their own.

These CHOP nurses said they were grateful for the many “sooth-ears” Ursuline Innovation Lab students made and donated to them

McNichol thought it would make a great service project for Ursuline students, and the Sooth-ear was given a name.

“I often tell my students when you have an idea, if you want it to really go somewhere you have to name it,” McNichol said.

Students responded enthusiastically to the invitation that appeared on Ursuline’s virtual page for service. All they needed were cotton headbands, oversize buttons, a needle and some thread. The invite also included an embedded YouTube tutorial on how to sew.


“It was just one of those things. They felt they could do something – something positive,” McNichol added. “As small as it might seem, it’s a small little comfort for people who are out there every day on the front line.”

“We’ve always worn masks in the hospital, but we never had to wear them in the hallways and all of the time,” Masley said. “Wearing the same mask all day, your ears begin to feel like someone’s punched them.”

UA Innovation Lab students generated this digital flyer to promote the project

About 150 Sooth-ears were created for the teams at CHOP, and McNichol said with more headbands on order Ursuline hopes to help Delaware hospitals as well.

 “It felt good to help people who are really doing a lot for our world right now,” freshman Carolyn Coyle said.

“I love it. I love to get involved and help people. Helping people is something that I really, really love to do,” Madalyn Alivernini added. “Just knowing that I was helping out a little bit really felt good.”


“It’s just so inspiring, for the girls and for us,” Masley said. She is hopeful that once restrictions are lifted, students may be able to visit CHOP and meet some of the nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers who’ve made use of the Sooth-ears.

Ursuline continues its pledge to serve

As this period of unprecedented learning time away from school continues during the pandemic, students are involved in other activities to live up to Ursuline’s guiding doctrine, Serviam – I Will Serve.

Upper school Theology teacher Meg Kane-Smith came up with a food drive concept similar to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual Stamp Out Hunger campaign.

Faculty, students and others in the school community collected canned goods and other non-perishable food items and left them out for pick-up at designated times. Collected items were dropped off at the Food Bank of Delaware or at Corpus Christi Parish for its food pantry.

Some donations also made their way to St. Catherine of Siena Parish for the Ministry of Caring’s Emmanuel Dining Room.

“I think that in moments like these the best thing we can do is just stick together, even if that isn’t physically, and just help out each other where we can and just kind of fill in the holes in others’ lives,” said Ursuline sophomore Fran Tusso, who contributed to the food pantry and plans to do so again.


Additional drives are planned on Earth Day April 22nd and for International Serviam Day May 2nd, according to Ursuline Campus Minister – Mission Effectiveness Coordinator and middle school religion teacher Michelle Hogan.

These efforts and other programs remind Hogan of a statement made by the founder of The Ursulines Saint Angela Merici: “build community wherever you go.”

“We’re continuing to do that, and that’s what’s so wonderful about Ursuline.”

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About the Contributor

Mark Fowser

Mark Fowser

Mark Fowser is a veteran broadcast-journalist in Delaware and New Jersey. He has anchored and reported with WDEL, WHYY, Delaware1059, WILM and Delaware First Media (now Delaware Public Media). Mark lives in New Castle.