HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, N.J. — The beeps and whistles stopped long enough for Amelia McGowan to realize exactly what was going wrong.
A paper jam … or in this case a filament jam.
For nine hours a day, there’s a 3D printer spitting out line after line in an effort to produce face shields for health care workers. It’s McGowan’s job to make sure the printer runs smoothly, but in the middle of this jam, production has slowed to a halt.
There’s a service error, and there’s only one McGowan in the house who knows how to fix it.
It’s not mom. It’s not dad.
It’s Amelia, a 13-year-old student with special needs from the South Bergen Jointure
Commission, who is one of a dozen teenagers from the district working with 3D printers at their homes to supplement remote learning.
The SBJC provides special education services for nearly 400 students in the area. The public school district, which has schools in six Bergen County towns, educates students from preschool through high school. It also has a post-graduate program for students up to 21 years old.
Earlier this month, McGowan, her family and a group of teachers and administrators from the district donated boxes of face shields to Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck. They were all produced by a group of students who were able to work with the printers from their homes once schools closed last month during the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The students are not only learning how to use the technology, but it has also given them a sense of pride in their work.
“Special parents, we don’t get the opportunity to watch our kids throw the winning touchdown or get to have the milestones that typical families do so to watch her and watch this independence bloom, to see her have that victorious moment, it’s only fueled my need to keep pushing this conversation,” said Dr. Stephanie McGowan, Amelia’s mother.
McGowan, who also serves as a councilwoman in Rutherford, has been a special needs advocate for the Bergen County town and works as the dean for the School of Education at Felician University.
In collaboration with Felician University and No Barriers USA, the South Bergen Jointure Commission has focused on educating its students “beyond the confines of school walls,” according to Dr. Michael Kuchar, the district’s superintendent.
“We can’t look at disabilities. We have to look at abilities. We’re giving kids skills, opportunities and when you put skills and opportunities together, the potential is unlimited,” Kuchar said.
“When this was happening, we saw that schools were using their 3D printers. We just said let our kids do it. We don’t need our faculty to do it. Let our kids do it. Our kids rose to the occasion.”
Shane Miller, the STEM coordinator for the district, delivered the printers to nearly a dozen families and provided step-by-step lessons. Since the initial deployment, additional 3D printers have been donated to the SBJC.
The project also caught the attention of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who shared the story of during a news conference while explaining #NJThanksYou, an initiative which highlights extraordinary acts of selflessness during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are grateful to the whole team,” Murphy said.
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