Inside Aera
Responsibility, Community May 19, 2020

Monterey County school adapts its 3-D printer for a real-world solution

A small community takes control during the coronavirus crisis to aid bigger county neighbors

San Lucas School's Jessica Riley (right) and her son Josh with the orange filters produced by the 3-D printer. More filters are shown being created inside the printer. Jessica holds a card from students thanking healthcare workers for their efforts. The cards are given to groups that receive the masks.

San Lucas School’s Jessica Riley (right) and her son Josh with the orange filters produced by the 3-D printer. More filters are shown being created inside the printer. Jessica holds a card from students thanking healthcare workers for their efforts. The cards are given to groups that receive the masks.

A rural elementary school in south Monterey County has found new purpose for the 3-D printer it received from Aera Energy last fall.

San Lucas School, located about 60 miles south of Salinas, had expected to use the high-tech printer as a STEM tool. Teachers saw ways to turn students into active creators and innovators with the 3-D machine, which prints out physical products from digital files.

But those efforts stopped when the COVID-19 stay-at-home order closed schools in mid-March.

Now the school has fired up its idled 3-D printer to solve an urgent real-world problem: making filters that fit into masks to help overcome the shortage of personal protective equipment among the county’s healthcare workers and first responders.

“This is an opportunity for our small town to take care of our own essential workers in Monterey County,” said Jessica Riley, school principal and superintendent of San Lucas Union School District.

Every week, Riley works with her son Josh to produce 20 filters from the 3-D printer. At 16, Josh is a junior at King City High School.

The filters are then delivered to staff members of Monterey County Free Libraries. They produce “Montana Masks” with the library system’s own 3-D printer. These highly effective filtration masks can be sanitized and reused. The school’s filters fit inside them.

The protective gear then heads to the Greenfield Police Department and other local fire departments and agencies. The masks and filters are also sent to Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, a 172-bed hospital owned and operated by the County of Monterey.

Part of something bigger

Riley displays the 3-D printer once a week in the school’s lobby for San Lucas students to see when they stop by to pick up lunches.

“They’re excited to know their school is playing a part in fighting the coronavirus and that we’re all in this together.”

“We want our children, parents and this community to know we’re all in this together,” Riley said.

The idea for a 3-D printer first came to Riley after she visited the San Jose Public Library. There, she saw how popular the printer was with students. But San Lucas School, with less than 100 students, couldn’t justify the expense of purchasing one. That’s when Aera stepped in with its $2,000 donation for the 3-D printer.

“Since then, the pandemic has taken hold, and we’ve seen how sudden change can be so difficult for everyone, especially for children,” said Kathy Miler, Aera’s public affairs representative in San Ardo.  

“Students are seeing firsthand how organizations can come together to help fill a great need,” Miller added. ““It’s a great example of Monterey County helping Monterey County.” 

We live our safety motto that “Every day, everybody goes home alive and well!” / DID YOU KNOW? Aera Energy has been honored with the North American Maintenance Excellence Award and the AME Manufacturing Excellence Award.

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