Annette Hart, Rapelje, MT

April 27, 2020 |
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Montana is our featured state for the 50 States in 50 Weeks project! Each week, National Rural Education Association and I Am A Rural Teacher show how vast rural America is. Check out an amazing perspective from Rapelje, MT (Rapelje School District) about how their small school is using 3D printing to make a positive impact. Submit your story: bit.ly/iaartcovid

"In the spring of 2019, Rapelji Business Education teacher Jacki Keating invited a couple Rapelje High School graduates, Jason Smith and Weston Downs to come and speak to the students. These two young men had invented a 3D scanner, started a KickStarter account and began making and selling their 3D scanners online. It was at this presentation that Jacki and her colleague, Nikki Markle were inspired to get a couple of 3D printers for the school. With the guidance of Jason and Weston they put together the list of needs. They used Perkins Funds as well as some other funding set aside for technology to purchase the printers and related supplies. In the fall of 2019, Nikki Markle set up the printers in her room so that the students could use them to print parts for their Science Olympiad projects. Some of the students had been exposed to computer programming through Computer Apps the previous year and they were set to learn more about 3D printing.

On March 15, 2020, Governor Steve Bullock ordered schools closed and suddenly teachers and students in Montana were in limbo. Later that week a neurologist in Billings, Montana, released a pattern for a 3D printed N100 mask and asked people to start printing these masks for medical personnel that would soon be running short of PPE. Jacki Keating and Nikki Markle jumped in to see how they could help. Nikki started printing the masks and Jacki started looking for people or organizations that could use our masks. Our first taker was Riverstone Hospice in Billings, Montana. Jacki had a heads up from a local doctor that these nurses were heading into patients homes and were facing a shortage of supplies.

As Nikki continued printing in Rapelje, with the help of Abby Schladweiler, one of our computer savvy National Honor Society students who had jumped at the chance to help out, Jacki worked with the doctor figuring out what sizes should be printed and how to tell what sizes people would need while social distancing. Since we were all in self quarantine, Abby and Nikki in Rapelje, working opposite shifts printing so to minimize contact with each other, Jacki helped out from home and on the phone. We were close to completing the printing for Riverstone Hospice so the next task was to figure out how to personalize the fit of each mask, what could be used as a gasket around the edge, how to attach the gasket and what we could supply to tie the masks on as we were also facing a shortage of elastic.

Jacki took on the task of establishing directions for fitting the mask with a heat gun, found the gasket that could work to seal the mask and what would hold it in place and ways to attach ties to each mask. Videos and pictures were taken so that a YouTube video could be made on how to complete the mask once the mask was printed. Jacki did the video, Nikki put the movie together and uploaded it to YouTube.

Next problem was our supply of filament was dwindling. When Nikki tried to order more on Amazon, we found out that it was considered a non-essential item and we couldn’t get any until late in April. Jacki contacted Jason and Weston and they made a donation of filament that they had on hand and community members and friends started finding filament for us and shipping it to the school.

The Riverstone Hospice masks have been delivered and Jacki will be going to their clinic on Friday, April 3 to help each nurse fit and finish their own mask. Later that day, Nikki and Jacki will be delivering the masks to the local nursing home, Beartooth Manor in Columbus, Montana and showing them how to fit and finish their masks. We have a few more clinics lined up that are hoping for masks.

Since the beginning we have made some adjustments to streamline the printing and finishing process. Nikki and Abby each have a printer at their house so they can print faster. A third printer has been ordered so that Jacki will also be able to print from home. Jacki is staying in contact with the people getting masks and making sure that they have the needed supplies to finish the masks when they are delivered and that they have ordered the necessary filters as well as keeping a list of people that are hoping for a mask."

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