Daniel Bouffard is a high school sophomore who hasn’t been to school in nearly two months.
He’s still helping his school help the Houston community in its ongoing fight against COVID-19.
Bouffard is part of a six-person team from Booker T. Washington High School that has been using 3D printers to produce customized pieces of plastic used to make protective face shields for medical workers as they treat patients who have been infected by the new strain of coronavirus. The school’s effort is being led by engineering teacher Nghia Le, who has enlisted Bouffard, fellow students Diego Delgado and Daniel Zamaripa and former students Charles Decker and Emanuel Martinez, the latter of whom is a part-time lecturer at the Independence Heights school.
While using a total of 10-12 school-supplied 3D printers at their respective homes, Le said the group has produced more than 1,400 face-shield components since March 31.
“I can’t do a lot as a 15-year-old in my own home, not going out very much,” Bouffard said. “I can’t really help in other ways, but every little bit counts. If I can produce a bunch of facemasks and get them out to these people that are working on the front lines, that’s a big thing in the community.”
Houston ISD said its Career and Technical Education (CTE) program manager and teachers from four of its other high schools – Eastwood Academy, Energy Institute High School, Lamar High School and Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men – also are making the face-shield materials. It is part of a region-wide initiative called H-Force, which is led by Houston Community College and includes HISD, Alief ISD, San Jacinto College, the University of Houston at Sugar Land, the Fort Bend County Judge’s Office and TX/RX Labs.
Le said TX/RX Labs provides the filament and specifications used to make a key part of the face shields – small, flexible strips of plastic to which the clear sheets of the face shield as well as the elastic fitting bands are attached – and also collects them to make the shields and distribute them to healthcare professionals.
“They realized to do this efficiently, they needed to have partners in the community, in schools or wherever, to help with it,” Le said. “We were happy to help them with it.”
Le said he received permission from Washington principal Carlos Phillips to remove the school’s 3D printers from campus before all HISD schools were closed in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He then kept some at his home and distributed the others to his helpers, including his three students, so they could assist with the H-Force effort while earning extra credit
Bouffard said Martinez, the Washington graduate who now works for the school, sends out weekly emails to see if anyone needs more supplies and to set a pickup schedule. They all leave the printed face-shield parts in bags in their driveways so Martinez can pick them up.
If one of the 3D printers needs some maintenance work, Bouffard said the team members leave it in their garages for Martinez to come by and fix. Le said the 3D printers need to be regularly calibrated and sometimes get clogged with materials.
“It’s not just, ‘You push a button and everything comes out,’” Le said. “Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not.”
Bouffard, who has been using 3D printers for about two years, said it’s a good learning experience as well as a good cause. He said he initially wanted to become an architect before he enrolled at Washington, an engineering magnet school, and now he wants to pursue aerospace engineering and help the next generation of Americans explore space.
In the meantime, he’s helping his community cope with a pandemic and making his teacher proud. Bouffard said Le prefers to be called a facilitator and wants his students to learn life skills as well as engineering skills.
“They’re willing to learn, willing to help, and that’s consistent with our philosophy that we try to use what we know in engineering to make life better for those around us,” Le said. “That’s our belief, and these students respond to that.”