Manatee college students make plexiglass shields for the new school year | From WTSP

Students will return to familiar settings in their classrooms, but there will be one obvious addition: layers of plexiglass.

Districts are having to spend thousands of dollars to get these manufactured and installed. But over at Manatee Technical College, students are pitching in to help.

“The main idea is to help people,” Vincent Manzo said.

Manzo is a recent graduate of MTC. He’s just one of six current and former students helping to make plexiglass shields to put up around the campus.

“I always like to help people, so if I can make something to help people on the frontline by all means I’ll make it,” Manzo said.

Chad Lease, Martin Valadez and Rhian Jenkins are other graduates putting in the work to help their alma mater prepare for the new school year. Tom Moser and Mike Ryan are returning MTC manufacturing students pitching in to help as well.

“We are trying to keep everybody safe,” Manzo said.

It’s a safety precaution most school districts are taking. Sheets of plexiglass will play a big role in reopening schools across Tampa Bay safely.

“We’ve been making them as fast as we can, but with the COVID constraints they don’t let us in too often, so whenever we can get in, we make as many as possible to whatever spec the desk dimension is,” Manzo said.

Each shield is unique. The group even designed a special one for the cosmetology department.

“Chad actually worked on some designs for the laser to cut out sheets for making, sort of box shields that goes around people who are doing cosmetology,” Manzo said.

Plus, Manzo says it only takes a couple of minutes to make one.

His former instructor, Gil Burlew, is helping with the manufacturing.

“We encourage students to do things like this at all the time,” Burlew said. “In this time of the crisis that we are having right now, it is so important for us to be looking out for one another and helping each other.”

Burlew says his students came to him wanting to know how they could help with reopening MTC and that’s how the project started.

“I just applaud them for being able to have the ability to have that in their heart to do the right thing for the right reasons,” Burlew said.

The design for each of these plexiglass shields is first drawn up using computer software. Then it’s time to cut it out. Burlew says because his students are doing the design and manufacturing it’s saving the district thousands of dollars.

“By day one every one of them will be cut out, every one of them will be finished right here in advanced manufacturing at MTC,” Burlew said.

The advanced manufacturing program at MTC is going into its third year. The instructor says they can do a lot of cool things that in turn can help the community.

Burlew says they are first focusing on making sure MTC is ready to go for the start of the school year, but they’re also talking with other Manatee County schools to possibly manufacture these plexiglass shields for them as well.

 Lia Fernandez (WTSP)

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