When COVID-19 closed schools in mid-March for what originally was supposed to be two weeks, Mt. Lebanon School District Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer asked faculty members a simple question.
“Is there anything that we can do to help?” he said.
Teacher Duane Lewis, who chairs the district’s Practical Arts Department, thought about what he and his colleagues could do with the high-tech equipment that normally is used by students.
“We did some research and decided that the best solution for us was to use our laser engravers, because of the speed in which we could make face shields,” Lewis said. “So we found a nice design online, kind of modified it to fit our needs and we mass-produced in our first round close to 400 face shields. We did that in two days.”
Joining him were fellow high school teachers Christy Brodbeck, Kayla Keown and Andrew Kuskil, plus Julie Snyder from Mellon Middle School. Following their production feat, they delivered face shields to St. Clair Hospital and Medical Rescue Team South Authority.
“We kept 30 back, because I just had a feeling that someone else would come along and say, ‘We could use some, too,’” Lewis said.
Sure enough, staff members at Animal Friends read about the Mt. Lebanon effort on social media and inquired whether some face shields would be available for the Ohio Township shelter. Lewis was happy to drop them off in mid-May, with the blessing of his wife, Dawn.
“My wife has been making masks, and we’re both dog lovers,” he said. “So she made masks for them that have dog prints and things like that.”
For the face shields, the teachers originally explored the idea of producing them with three-dimensional printers.
“Doing something on a 3-D printer is slow,” Lewis said, “and the design we found for the size and 3-D printer we have would take one hour to print one face shield. That’s why we decided to go with the laser engraver idea to put them together.”
The teachers ordered thick plastic in sheets and then used the engraver to cut it into 12-by-12-inch pieces before assembling the shields with tabs, staples and elastic headbands.
Enough plastic remains to make up to 400 more shields, Lewis said.
“In the second round, we’ll reach back out to the hospital and MRTSA to see what their needs are,” he said, and the teachers also plan to contact Mt. Lebanon businesses and professional offices to determine where there are needs.
As for the overall project, the teachers have particular cause for enthusiasm, as some of the spouses of their department members work in healthcare.
“It was fun to do,” Lewis said about the initial two-day production run, “because we knew we were able to give back and contribute in some way.”