Sumter middle-schooler uses school learning, resources to help health care workers

Alice Drive Middle School STEM ambassador creates extension piece for masks


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A good ambassador represents his or her organization well and lends a helping hand to others through partnerships.

That's exactly what Alice Drive Middle School eighth-grader Kaden Burns has done as a STEM ambassador at the school. STEM is an educational curriculum focused on the integration of science, technology, engineering and math.

Putting that role to the test came up when he thought about how the ear loops on surgical/procedural masks can rub the back of your ears raw because of the tight fit and frequent use. Because of the increased use of these masks caused by COVID-19, Burns came up with an idea.

School media specialist Leslie Lloyd had recently sent an article to Burns on a group that manufactured mask holders or extensions that position on the back of a person's head and connect to the ear loops of the mask. The extensions hold the mask in place and prevent irritation because the loops never touch the ear.

Burns said he thought it was a good idea and realized that by using computer software, he could design his own version of the mask extension and make them via Alice Drive's 3D printing lab.

But he would need some help in the process because school campuses, including his own, have been closed to students amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last two months, Sumter School District has used online instruction as its alternative pathway to learning for students in grades 1-12, and that will continue through early June.

Enter Lloyd.

Burns said he knew in his head what he wanted his mask extension to look like, and he used AutoCAD software - originally learned in a 3D lab class at the school - on his home computer to design his "in-class" project.

Burns simply could send the 3D object file on a flash drive to the school, and Lloyd could just click a couple buttons in the lab, hit print, and voil .

Lee Pitt, Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital's patient transport and communications manager, heard of Burns' project through his volunteer activity on the school's STEM Advisory Board. He discussed the project with Tuomey leaders, and they said they would take 50 mask extensions right away designed and manufactured by the 14-year-old.

The presentation and pickup took place last week in the school's media center with Pitt, Lloyd and two other school leaders on hand and Burns joining via Zoom from his home.

Because of the pandemic, Pitt said everyone at the hospital wears a surgical mask now. That includes all health care providers, staff and the patients.

He only takes his mask off when he goes into his personal office at the hospital, but, he said, he feels bad for the nurses at Tuomey who often wear their masks for 12 straight hours.

Pitt told Burns through Zoom that everyone at the hospital appreciated his work.

"The back of the ears of our providers get rubbed raw now trying to care for people during the pandemic," he said. "This will definitely give them a little bit of comfort during the long shifts and endless fight that they are battling on a day-to-day basis right now."

The mask extensions provide direct relief for the ears, he said.

Burns is one of 20 eighth-graders at Alice Drive Middle who are STEM ambassadors at the school. Those ambassadors generally oversee the 3D lab and mentor the school's sixth- and seventh-graders with STEM projects, helping them to come to fruition.

Marina Mosneaguta, the school's STEM lead teacher, facilitated the Zoom meeting and told Burns that his project was mutually beneficial in that it also benefited the local community.