Rockwood School District is diversifying its 3D printing efforts to aid local health care workers who are combating coronavirus (COVID-19).
Around a dozen staff members are using the FlashForge 3D printers normally utilized in elementary schools across the district to print face mask straps that can be worn across the back of the head. These straps connect to the face mask bands to relieve stress on the workers' ears and make the masks more comfortable to wear.
"I sent out an email about it and, within 12 hours, we already had a handful of people on deck, ready to print," said Rockwood Coordinator of STEM and Digital Learning Brian Reed. "They'd already been to their schools, got the printers and got going."
Staff members who are taking part in the effort retrieved the FlashForge printers from school buildings and brought them home. They programmed National Institutes of Health-approved settings into the printers and followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sanitation guidelines to transfer the finished straps to Ziploc bags for distribution.
Each strap takes about 20 minutes to make. Uthoff Valley Elementary
fourth-grade teacher Vickie DeBruin, who is helping print the straps, said she showcased the printer and its processes in a recent Zoom call with her class.
"They were as excited as I was about helping," DeBruin said. "I love that our district not only teaches STEM but also models the 'find a need and fill it' innovative practices. I know how hard our doctors and nurses are working to fight COVID, and printing these straps helps them be more comfortable during long shifts. It makes me proud to be a part of a school district that wants to help the community it serves."
Staff members take their Ziploc bags full of finished straps to a drop-off bin at the Rockwood Administrative Annex in Eureka, where Reed collects them and transports them to Washington University's Danforth Campus.
Washington University then distributes the straps to local health care systems.
"When I found out that there is something I know how to do that can actually make a tiny positive difference in a health care worker's day, I said 'sign me up!'" said Ballwin Elementary
librarian Kristin Clark. "I will keep printing these mask straps as long as they are needed."
The district also has about 20 other 3D printers in use creating plastic visor-like pieces that connect to face shields for health professionals. To date, staff members have manufactured and donated more than 490 face shield pieces
In the early days of production, Rockwood staff members have already donated more than 240 face mask straps.
"I volunteered because I was inspired by the everyday acts of courage and kindness happening in our world," said Green Pines Elementary
librarian Theresa Swoboda, who is printing mask straps, "from the doctors and nurses putting their lives on the line to grocery store employees making sure we are fed and so many others stepping up to sew masks, chalk words of encouragement on the sidewalks and provide food for those who need it. It's this goodness and light that keep us going, and I am grateful for it."
"My passion is teaching, and part of that is because I love helping others," added Uthoff Valley fourth-grade teacher Robin Chamberlin. "The people on the front lines are doing so much to take care of all of us. If this mask strap will give them any comfort, I am so glad that Rockwood can provide that."