Silas Hoffman makes buttons to connect teachers and students

Silas Hoffman (center) and two of his Fire Island Robotics teammates cutting out photos for the elementary staff buttons.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Stuck at home without school, robotics team practices, or time with friends when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March, Muscatine High School student Silas Hoffman found himself bored and searching for something productive to do. Through watching videos on YouTube, Silas discovered that people could use 3D printers to make personal protective equipment. Inspired, he got permission to use the Fire Island Robotics 3D printer to make ear savers to donate to those who needed them.

While Silas worked on the ear saver project, he learned through a personal protective equipment making group on Facebook that some people had started making buttons for students with teachers’ faces on them. That way, their students could see what they looked like even when they had to have their masks on. “It would probably help them relate if they could actually see what their teachers look like under their masks,” he explained.

Inspired, Silas contacted Muscatine Community School District Superintendent Clint Christopher to get permission to make buttons of each elementary school staff member. Christopher put him in contact with Technology Supervisor Scott Comstock, who provided him with photos of the staff members.

With the help of some of his Fire Island Robotics teammates, Silas got to work on the buttons. Over the course of about a week, he and his friends printed and cut out each photo, punched them into a button shape, and then inserted them into the final buttons. Though coordinating busy school schedules presented a challenge, Silas and his teammates found several evenings when they had time to assemble the buttons. All together, Silas made buttons for seven schools worth of teachers, office, and support staff.

On Sept. 24, Silas began distributing the final buttons to each of the elementary schools. He brought his initial donation to Grant Elementary School, the school he attended as a younger child. Silas also brought ear savers for teachers and staff to use if they liked as well. As the school year progresses, Silas has offered to replace any buttons that need an updated photo or repairs.

For Silas, getting to help out so many teachers and staff members feelt good. “I think it’s really nice because they’re living in a very different way than we were living when I was in elementary school a lot of years ago,” he said. As elementary teachers and students adjust to the demands of this year, they will surely appreciate the personal connection the buttons bring.