Uniquely-Abled Students Create Face Shields
By Jennifer Ersalesi
In an effort to support the growing need to protect the healthcare workers who are working tirelessly to care for those afflicted with COVID-19, the South Bergen Jointure Commission (SBJC), Felician University’s School of Education and Rutherford’s Access for All Committee have joined forces. Uniquely-abled middle school and high school students are fostering 3D printers from the SBJC and creating face shields for first responder heroes. This is Rutherford recently spoke with Councilwoman, Dean of Education at Felician University, and a parent of a participating student, Stephanie McGowan, and another parent, Mrs. Sandy Gilson, about this project.
TIR: How did you come up with this idea to create face shields with 3D printers?
Stephanie McGowan: Dr. Michael Kuchar, the Superintendent at South Bergen Jointure Commission, and I have been working together for some time partnering with No Barriers, and we had planned an event for a No Barriers focused on Autism at Overpeck Park. Since this culminating event cannot happen, Dr. Kuchar wanted to know if we could work together to find foster families for the 3D printers that are on the SBJC campus. We discussed how those foster families could be taught to use the 3D printers to create face shields for healthcare workers at our local hospitals and within our communities. We thought this could be a way for parents not to feel victimized while helping their children grow and learn a new skill set to produce lifesaving face shields.
TIR: How did you find students and families to participate?
SM: We began to reach out to families with middle school and high school-aged students. We knew we had to find families who were willing to assist their children with this process. Although this is essentially something students can eventually do independently, they need supportive families who were able to learn alongside them and support them. Their responses were overwhelming and all the families who are involved are 100% in.
Sandy Gilson: Dr. Kuchar reached out to us and told us that he had found a way to put the 3D printers he had at SBJC to good use and he asked if my son, Scott, would like to participate in this project. I was nervous about it at first, but Shane Miller, the STEM coordinator, gave us amazing directions and we were able to figure it out.
SM: Shane drove all over Bergen County to drop off the 3D printers and flash drives. He also helped us send out very specific directions that families have been using to guide and coach their uniquely abled students to create these lifesaving face shields.
TIR: Tell us more about the process of creating these masks.
SM: It actually takes about three hours to make one mask, assuming that all goes smoothly. Since it takes so long to make one mask, we only usually make about three masks per day. It is pretty amazing that just within a week we were able to donate about 100 masks to Holy Name Hospital (considering the length of time it takes to create just one mask). It helps that so many families are participating.
SG: The directions were very clear. Scott knows he has to follow the screen prompts. He has learned how to be very careful with the glass tray and spatula that he uses to remove pieces from the printer.
TIR: How are students benefitting from participation in this project?
SM: We have all found something positive in an awful scenario. This is what it looks like to live your mission and passion. Together we are building inclusive communities, workforce development and opportunities for ALL! This aligns our Access for All program, that I am deeply invested in, with teaching young adults using the greatest technology, workforce development, STEAM learning, and life skills.
TIR: As parents of children who are using 3D printers to create face shields, how do they feel about being involved?
SG: Scott is so excited about this and he now knows how to make the masks on his own. This is so great for him. He feels productive. He cannot wait until one face shield is done so that he can start another one. He understands that doctors and nurses need to wear these so that they are not exposed to their patients’ germs.
I have learned that he really loves this and it has opened up some new ideas. We are considering getting him his own 3D printer to use in the future. This is a win-win situation; he enjoys making the masks and the masks are protecting healthcare workers. Scott calls it his “Robot” because it sounds like a robot (it is pretty noisy...laughs).
SM: Yes, it is funny, my daughter Amelia calls the printer “R2D2” because of the sounds it makes as it is working. She has been asking awesome questions about how the printer works, how it was coded, and why the masks are essential. She has not only learned how to make the face shields but she is even more curious about science and technology than she was before and she has always loved science. Dr. Kuchar’s daughter is Autistic and she has been using the printer and has really been enjoying making the face shields.
“The kids are truly the superstars in this story,” explained McGowan.
Pictured in the photo above: Stephanie Kuchar (School Business Administrator, Saddle River), Jacqueline Kuchar (Freshman at FDU, Compass Program for students on Autism Spectrum), Shane Miller (SBJC STEM Coordinator), Don Ecker (Director of Supply Chain Management-Holy Name Hospital), Amelia McGowan, Dr. Stephanie McGowan (Rutherford Councilwoman, Dean of Education at Felician University), Jeff McGowan (SBJC Autism Teacher), and Jeffrey McGowan, Jr. Not photographed, but in attendance: Dennis Rossi (SBJC Principal) and Dr. Michael Kuchar (Superintendent, SBJC).
TIR: Where are these face shields being donated?
SM: We donated our first batch to Holy Name Hospital last weekend. They were so accommodating. We were only outside briefly. We carried the boxes to the one individual who would be bringing them inside to avoid cross-contamination. I had tears in my eyes seeing the boxes of face shields brought into the hospital. Since there are so many Rutherford students making the face shields, we are going to donate them to the Rutherford Police Department, Volunteer Fire Department, and the First Ambulance Corps. After that, we will donate them to Hackensack Hospital.
Of all of the projects I have been involved with as a teacher, Dean, mother, and Councilmember throughout the years, I am most proud of this. I want to give a special shout-out to Superintendent Dr. Michael Kuchar and his daughters Stephanie and Jackie, Shane Miller of the SBJC, the Felician University International Center for Autism and Disabilities Research in Education, my husband and SBJC Autism teacher Jeff McGowan, our beautiful children Amelia, and Jeffrey Jr., and the amazing families in Rutherford and across Bergen County for making this happen. We are Bergen County and New Jersey Strong!