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Vidor HS teacher makes special delivery to LSCO

By Van Wade

Vidor ISD Teacher Amanda Balla continues to be a frontline supporter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lamar State College Orange is grateful for a potentially life-saving donation from a Vidor High School teacher.

On Tuesday, Balla, a freshman science and robotics teacher, delivered 15 3D printed mask bands and 30 face shields to LSCO President, Dr. Tom Johnson.

The bands and masks will be incredibly helpful as a limited number of LSCO faculty and students return to campus following the COVID-19 shutdown to complete hands-on training courses before the end of the spring semester. While the return to campus is completely voluntary for students, they are required to meet social distancing and PPE (personal protective equipment) guidelines set by the CDC while in class.

LSCO has provided PPE to students, faculty, and staff on the campus, but with limited supplies, the campus is glad to have more.

Balla is part of a group that is using transparency film to make face shields for nurses and healthcare workers across the area.

“They are going out to places like Baptist Hospital and St. Elizabeth Hospital as well as some of our county nurses, who are at testing sites,” said Balla. “We’re continuing to make as many as we can and more people are getting involved and we hope to start getting them to nursing home nurses too.”

Balla and friends got wind of the idea when they came across a blog from Alex Kretzschmar from North Carolina.

“We just want to help as many people as we can,” said Balla. “Those healthcare workers on the front lines are doing a great job and we just want to support them the best way that we can. We can do great things for healthcare workers if people with 3D printers did a few masks each day.”

While she continues to do a wonderful job teaching Vidor high schoolers, Balla has spent a lot of her spare time producing masks.

“On good days, you can make eight to 10 a day,” said Balla. “More and more people are getting involved; we don’t want our area healthcare workers having shortages.

Balla and her husband made the mask bands at home using their 3D printer and have donated them, along with the plastic shields, to local hospitals, COVID-19 testing sites, nursing homes, and other high-need facilities.

My husband and I are tinkerers and when he asked me what I wanted for Valentine’s Day, I said I wanted a 3D printer,” Balla said. “When this hit, we thought, ‘What can we do to help?’ We realized a lot of people across the country were making PPE.”

She estimates they’ve printed more than 300 bands.

Balla explained that the bands and shields are relatively simple to assemble once printed. The shields, which are actually transparency films, have hole punches along the side that line up with and attach to tabs on the 3D printed bands.

The filament for the bands was donated from the Vidor High School library and the transparencies were donated from the school’s math department.

The bands can be sanitized and reused many times, but the shields are made of thin plastic and should only be sanitized and reused a few times.

Thera Celestine, LSCO’s Director of Community and Workforce Education, initially saw Balla’s 3D- printed PPE on social media and reached out to purchase some for the students returning to campus.
“I’m not charging at all and I just want to help,” Balla said. “I’m excited that I can help.”

President Johnson appreciates Balla’s efforts to help the campus.
“Our students are working hard to get their hours in and finish and anything we can do to help keep our students safe is a blessing right now,” he said.

Balla is not just using her 3D printer to help the community but is also using it to help her robotics students at Vidor High School. She has assigned the students to design assistive devices – basically any device that could help someone complete a task. Once the students submit their designs, she prints them and records it so students can see a time-lapse video of the whole process. They then go over what worked and what didn’t to determine how to fine-tune the design.

The 3D printed mask bands need no fine tuning and the ones LSCO received are even orange and green to match the school’s colors.