PORTLAND — Baxter Academy for Technology and Science is one of 10 schools in the nation being honored during National Charter Schools Week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The Above and Beyond Award recognizes Baxter for its emergency ventilator project, which is a finalist in the CoVent-19 Challenge, a competition judged by a panel of anesthesiology physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital and aimed at identifying an innovative ventilator to assist in meeting the global demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Baxter’s design is one of seven finalists out of more than 200 entries from around the world, and it is the only high school to advance among teams from universities and professional engineering collaborations.
Baxter Academy is a project-based STEM high school with an emphasis on solving real-world problems. When the school moved to remote learning in March, engineering teacher Jonathan Amory identified that he and his students might be able to help overcome a projected severe shortage of ventilators in Maine. Working separately from bedrooms and kitchen tables, the team of students and alumni developed a mechanically robust ventilator from readily available parts.
Three weeks later, when the ventilator was tested at the University of New England’s Interprofessional Simulation and Innovation Center, lab director Dawne- Marie Dunbar said, “What was very exciting was the data that we got from the patient simulator very much mimicked what we would see if it was on a real ventilator. To take parts that are readily available and basically put them together with three tools and to come up with a prototype that worked as well as it did on our patient simulator we were fascinated.” The ventilator costs only about $1,500 to produce.
Amory is now leading his team of students to refine their design for the finals of the Co-Vent-19 Challenge, which culminates June 21. Whatever happens in the competition, as far as Amory is concerned, the lesson for his students is in the work, “They see that they can put their skills to use right away, that when there’s a crisis or a challenge that comes up, they can rise to the occasion and implement the skills that they’ve learned so far. They see themselves being relevant to finding solutions to the problem.”
The Above and Beyond Award was earned by schools that took the extra step to serve not only their own students, but also the broader community — during the coronavirus pandemic, despite all the challenges that came with transitioning to online learning.
“When schools nationwide transitioned to distance learning, it became clear to us that charter schools were setting a model for the rest of the nation on what it looked like to step up and care for their communities in the face of a global pandemic,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “There are many public schools that served their students well in the face of COVID-19, but the exceptional work of our Above and Beyond Award winners embodies compassion and caring for people outside their school community who also needed help. Their work is a model of servant leadership for the rest of the nation.”
Baxter Academy is a public charter school with students who attend school in Portland daily, commuting from 54 Maine towns. National Charter Schools Week celebrates charter school achievements May 10-16.