This wasn’t an opportunity Rein Wehrman could pass up.
With COVID-19 disrupting nearly every facet of life, her Spokane Valley Tech teacher Mark Bitz looked for projects that would allow his students to make a difference in their community.
The project: face shields, designed and built with 3D printers on site by students in Bitz’s Advanced Manufacturing class. The leader: Wehrman, whose combination of personal mechanical skills made her an easy choice.
“What I love about the school is how hands-on it is and how many opportunities it gives you,” Wehrman said Monday morning as she showed off her team’s creations.
Even better, it gave students a chance to give something back – namely the shields. They began with an inspired title for the project – “Stem the Tide” – and got to work.
The team, including student advisor Sam Profit and designers Ryan Chilson and Frank Rolls, obtained five designs approved by the National Institute of Health.
After many hours of research, design, printing and testing, they chose a model from Design That Matters, a company based in Redmond, Washington.
Hundreds of hours of work lay ahead, abetted by the donation of two more 3D printers from another Redmond firm, Hawk Ridge Systems.
The team fine-tuned their product, even rounding the edges of the plastic shields for greater comfort.
The project also makes it “easy to learn, to be more focused,” Wehrman said.
After a month and a half, the team produced and donated more than 50 shields to the MultiCare Deaconess Cancer and Blood Specialty Center in north Spokane.
Health care workers and patients will use the face shields to help prevent the spread of COVID.
“It’s magic,” said Bitz, a former engineer at Hewlett-Packard now in his eighth year at the school, located at the corner of Sprague and University, which serves high school students in the Spokane Valley.
“It’s my mission to help these kids prepare for careers, and when students take this from a grant all the way to a finished product, it’s just magic,” Bitz said.
More magic may lie ahead. On Thursday, the team will compete in the regional level of the Skills- USA nationwide engineering competition.
Win or lose, the students themselves are becoming finished products.
This fall, Wehrman plans to attend either Montana or Montana State in pursuit of a degree in business.
“But there are lots of routes to a successful career,” Bitz said.
“In a project like this, you find out who you are, and that’s an invaluable life experience.”
Another Central Valley school, Mica Peak, is also adapting to the constraints of COVID-19.
Primarily an alternative high school for CV School District students, it also houses transition programs for post-high school students from 18-21 with special needs.
The programs focus on strengthening vocational skills, independent and codependent living skills, self-care and healthy relationship skills, and community integration and access.
In Mica Peak’s School To Life Endeavors program, students spend the majority of their school-time working at offsite work areas, including the Spokane Valley Partner’s food bank, Habitat for Humanity, Ace Hardware, Peters Hardware, grocery stores and other vocational-training locations.
Due to the pandemic and the restrictions in place, Endeavors students have not been able to access these locations this year.
“So we began to look within the school district,” Principal Kamiel Youseph said Monday.
Through teacher Rusty Lee and paraeducators Nancy Combs and Kelli Dexter, the program has worked with district’s Maintenance and Facilities department and our Nutrition Services department.
Students have built boxes that contain grab-and-go meals and a sign honoring this year’s high school seniors.
But the biggest project focused on building protective barriers intended to promote social-distancing and protection from COVID-related contact.
Funded through private donors, the School To Life Endeavors students designed and produced barriers from PVC pipe, zip ties and plexiglass sheets.