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Altamont Students, Teacher Create PPEs for Local Medical Community
Julie Beckwith

Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages for health care professionals, first responders and other front-line workers in the COVID-19 crisis have moved many people to action. At The Altamont School, two students and their computer science teacher have taken a high-tech approach to meeting this wide-spread need.

Tenth grader Meghan Goyal and ninth grader Noah Warren both have family in the medical profession. Meghan's parents, Rita and Munish, are doctors, and Noah's mom, Emily, is a nurse anesthetist. Meghan and Noah are also students in Ryan James' computer science classes: Advanced CS Web Design and AP CS Principles respectively.

In late March, Meghan came to Mr. James and Head of School Chris Durst with a proposal. Working with a prototype created by the Birmingham community maker group Bham Support, she wanted to use Altamont's 3D printer and laser cutter to create face shields to distribute to local hospitals.

"Birmingham has such a high concentration of health care workers, and there is a shocking deficit of PPEs. I wanted to do anything that I could to keep the doctors safe because they are at high risk to get Corona, and they are at risk to then transfer it to their patients--many of whom have compromised immune systems already," said Meghan.

At the same time, Noah was working on a prototype that could convert full-face snorkel masks into medical-standard masks for health professional by utilizing 3D printed adaptive pieces. He also needed access to Altamont's technology to execute these PPEs.

Mr. James volunteered to help Meghan and Noah with these projects. Training them on the proper use and care of the machines and working with them every step of the way on these projects.

A prototype is just that—a place to start. The exact settings used to print PPEs varies by machine. A huge component of Meghan and Noah's PPE creation process has been trouble shooting with Mr. James and project management. You don't just push a button on a printer and a PPE is magically produced. It takes days of back and forth, trial and error, and many hours for a 3D print to complete.

Meghan, Noah and Mr. James have been running machines continually and holding regular virtual meetings and chats through Microsoft Teams.

Mr. James explains the process in this way: "This has been an Altamont community effort. Noah received a 3D file and sent it to me on Teams, and I created a printable file for our 3D printer. The file was then printed on our Lulzbot 3D printer by Meghan, who arranged for the finished print to be picked up by Noah."

And their hard work has paid off. Both Meghan and Noah have been able to successfully produce their PPEs. Noah's masks have gone to a team of nurse anesthetists at UAB Highlands. Meghan is distributing her face shields to local hospitals through Bham Support. They plan to continue producing these PPEs as long as they can.

"I found it rewarding that we could help make CRNAs at UAB Highlands smile and know that our community cares about them," said Noah. Meghan agreed: "So far, the biggest reward has been seeing pictures of the doctors that I have delivered masks to wearing them. It is comforting to know that they are being protected and safe."

Altamont is uniquely positioned to serve the community in this way. As a Microsoft School with a 1-to-1 laptop program and a rigorous computer science curriculum, the infrastructure and machinery needed to execute these projects, including Prusa MK3S and Lulzbot TAX 3D printers, were already in place. Microsoft Teams has been an especially important tool in managing communication around this effort.

Community partners have also played an important role. The DeShazo Foundation's support of Altamont's innovative computer science program enabled the purchase of top-of-the-line equipment, including the school's new laser cutter, which Meghan used to produce her face shields.

Mr. James says, "This is what I love about Altamont: two students reached out to me to help them come up with a solution to the N95 mask shortage. Working together, we have taken a difficult situation and turned it into a real-world learning and service opportunity."

Noah adds, "The last couple of weeks have helped me realize how much Mr. James is teaching us really useful skills in class!"

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