School custodians and board maintenance staff with the Durham Catholic District School Board gathered up PPE supplies to deliver to Lakeridge Health. Photo courtesy Durham board

Schools connect with community

  • April 29, 2020

When the call went out amid the global pandemic for 3D printers to make parts for face shields, St. James Catholic High School principal Mike MacPherson immediately thought of his technology teachers Mike Moore and Kevin Reid.

“When someone says there’s a problem I always say, ‘You should call these two guys,’ ” MacPherson told The Catholic Register.

The two teachers have taken the Guelph, Ont., school to the world robotics championships five times in a dozen years, MacPherson said. In courses they teach on construction technology, automotive manufacturing and precision machining, Reid and Moore use the school’s four 3D printers to get kids excited about coding.

But it’s about more than just the tech for the teachers.

“They’re just guys who are really connected to the community,” MacPherson said. “This is our community. This is our family. 

“That’s one of the things that’s important in our schools — it’s a Catholic graduate expectation for our students to be a caring family member and a responsible citizen.”

So you don’t get through a global pandemic without a little help from people like Reid, Moore and other Catholic teachers and staff like Giulio De Santis, Luis Gomes, Carmelo Cucchi and Elly Lambert, just a few examples of educators who have joined the battle against COVID-19 and are living up to the “Igniting Hope” message of Ontario Catholic Education Week.

“There are so many examples of acts of radical compassion by our staff, students and families coming together to transform our community during this time,” explained Wellington Catholic District School Board director of education Tamara Nugent in an e-mail.

With help from Gomes, Wellington Catholic’s senior IT manager, the St. James’ team installed three of the school’s 3D printers in Reid’s home. The other one went to Gomes. Now the four printers run all day producing parts for The Canadian Shield, a project of Kitchener tech company Inksmith which produces fully approved face shields for Canadian health care workers.

MacPherson looks forward to the educational value of the project once students are back in class.

“When we do return to school, now we know we can contribute. We can build things at our school that are going to help people in our community,” he said. 

“It gives us great hope. It gives our teachers confidence as well that we can create these kinds of learning opportunities with our students.”

In the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Cucchi is co-ordinating a similar effort with 10 printers operating out of teacher homes producing the parts for 400 face shield assemblies per week. The assembled shields are delivered to the Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto for distribution to wherever they’re most needed.

“It has been collaborative from the start, with staff volunteering their time to support our front line health care workers,” Cucchi said in an e-mail. “As the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) resource teacher, my work is to provide support to teachers and students to see how subject areas are connected. 

“The E in STEAM is also for empathy, and this project demonstrates how involved we are as a Catholic institution in our communities.”

It isn’t all high tech. Lambert, a Guelph educational assistant, has been using her COVID-19 time at home to sew gowns and masks for the Elliot Home for Seniors.

“This is a true testament to the nature of our community, one that gives and serves,” said Nugent.

When the crisis hit, St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary technology teacher De Santis didn’t have to turn on the news to understand the gravity of the situation. His wife is a front-line worker at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. 

“They needed masks fast, so I had to react swiftly and safely,” said De Santis.

He rummaged through the school for protective equipment and delivered N95 respirator masks to grateful hospital workers in the Sunnybrook parking lot.

Administrators at his school and the board weren’t worried about the cost or how they would replace the equipment later.

“They were blown away by my initiative to help out in these desperate times,” De Santis said.

At Durham Catholic District School Board, board administrators and staff started figuring out what they could contribute the minute they knew the March break would be longer than expected.

Scott Grieve, superintendent of facilities at Durham Catholic, contacted Lakeridge Health and offered 150 3.78-litre jugs of foaming hand soap, 120 jugs of regular hand soap, 75 one-litre bottles of sanitizer, 50 400 ml containers of hand sanitizer, more than 200 boxes of latex-free gloves, 12 boxes of N95 masks and 30 eye goggles.

“We said, ‘What do you need?’ They said, ‘Whatever you can give us,’ ” said Grieve.

“This was stuff that we had, that we weren’t going to be using. There was a need in our health care system for our frontline workers. We weren’t as concerned with how much we were giving, it was just, let’s just give what we have.” 

It was about actively demonstrating a “Catholic charitable approach” by reaching out to the community “and being supportive in a time of need.”

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