Winona High School students become masters of printing

Published on Monday, 7 October 2013 22:31 - Written by FAITH HARPER fharper@tylerpaper.com

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Students at Winona ISD have been wearing a lot of T-shirts this year, in part to support a new career and technology class at its high school.

“We are not T-shirt poor, and the students are more than happy to do any kind of T-shirt,” said Kim Campbell, the teacher of a new print and visual arts class at the high school. “They get so excited about it.”

The district converted an old weight room near the football stadium into a T-shirt and vinyl sign shop.

The shop is operated by students in the new career and technology course.

“It’s one of my favorite classes of the day …” 17-year-old senior Bailey Switzler said. “It’s nice because I’m a senior and all my other classes are hard, but this one is relaxing.”

Ms. Campbell said she started the semester off with a few safety talks and the students got right to work.

“We learned what all the machinery was for, and they watched a couple of times, and then we started with them,” she said. “It was really hands on.”

The shop uses a screen-printing machine. Students said the process begins with a design that is put on a transparency-like sheet and burned into a plate, which is used in the machine. The machine has four screens that are hinged over moving platforms where the shirts are glued into place.

The ink is then heated to a perfect temperature and run over the plate, which has small holes that transfer it to the shirt. It can take several layers of ink to get the image perfect, and the machine is capable of using four colors to make any design. The shirts are finished off in a curing oven, which sets the ink and makes the shirts safe to wash.

Ms. Campbell said each student has found their niche in the process and as soon as an order comes in, they take it and run.

Senior Taylor Brown said his role is to make sure the shop is spick-and-span.

“I clean the screens and make sure everything is cleaned up,” he said. “I’m kind of a clean freak and when there isn’t anything to do I’m over there making sure everything is clean.”

Brown also is good at organizing and construction. He built T-shirt displays the class uses to sell T-shirts at football games, as well as a shelf to house the used screen plates.

So far, the students have focused on the production and business side of the industry. WISD employee Nick Tarkington, 18, has designed the shirts on his personal computer with a group of students chipping in ideas. Tarkington learned the craft of screen-printing at Union Grove ISD and worked at Classic Stitch in Gladewater for several years.

A new set of computers was installed a week ago, and the students are waiting on design software to be installed before they get creative.

“I think they are going to have a blast,” Tarkington said. “They are already playing on other websites trying to figure out ideas.”

Superintendent Denise Shetter said the district was discussing the new class for two years. She said the school board put in an initial investment of about $30,000 for the equipment. She said the funding was pieced together from a mixture of bond and grant money with a little bit coming from restrictive funds.

The district would come close to breaking even on supplies just using its own business, Ms. Shetter said.

After the initial set up, it’s now up to the students to run the shop like a business.

“They are already figuring out how much we should make on each order, how much we have left and if we should lower our price because of our supply …” Ms. Campbell said. “They are making sure we are making a little bit of a profit on the shirts, and they are figuring in the cost of the ink and the cost of shipping to get the shirts to us.”

The students are saving up their profits to buy an embroidery machine so they can offer designed hats and other things.

Students also have been busy painting and prepping the front of their building into a store front, where they can display and directly see their products.

Ms. Campbell said the community support has been amazing, and the class has been kept busy. The band, FFA, cheerleaders and alumni associations have all ordered shirts, and the group has made a new design for each home football game. They also are working on some special projects for the district’s homecoming and “pink out” games.

“We are getting so much support from this entire school …” she said. “Everybody is being, so supportive you couldn’t ask for better people.”

But the support has moved beyond the district. Some of the student’s employers have switched for their T-shirt needs, and the city of Winona employees also are sporting student-made shirts.

“Right now, (a lot of people) don’t know where we are because we are new this year, but getting to tell people, ‘I made that shirt,’ is pretty cool, and people are pretty surprised,” Brown said.

For a quote on a T-shirt price, email Kim Campbell atkcampbell@winonaisd.org or call the high school office at 903-939-4000.