Students learn from T-shirt business

BERLIN CENTER -- CEO Crystalin DeMarco earned only $40 along with some stock options last quarter.
This quarter business for her company, INKIT, has picked up, and she and the other employees anticipate earnings will soar. They'd better. The employees' grades depend on it.
DeMarco is one of 25 Western Reserve High School students enrolled in a Manufacturing Technology course in which students run a T-shirt business. If the business makes money, they pass. If the business goes down the tubes, they fail.
"We had only four major jobs last nine weeks," DeMarco said. "We have a lot lined up now, though, including three this week." These three orders were all from school groups, but the class also does work for outside groups.
"We charge the going rate," said Mike Groubert, one of the teachers supervising the class.
"The students do everything from ordering the shirts from a wholesale company in Cincinnati to creating the artwork for the silk-screening. They even figure all the students' wages, based on the number of hours students spend on the business outside of class. Students can choose a salary, stock options, or a combination of both, at the end of the grading period.
Groubert, who teaches art and graphic design, and industrial arts teacher Jay Clark, oversee the operations.
Realistic: "This is the first year for the class," Groubert said, "but we've been talking about it for more than two years."
Groubert explained this course is "as close to out-in-the-world business as it gets." The program, which sells public stock to community members, must be coordinated through Junior Achievement, a corporation. Nonprofit entities, such as the school district, cannot sell stock. Youngstown's Small Business Development Center, through its youth program, also helps out.
School Superintendent Charles Swindler said the students had to learn how to do everything, including advertising, sub-contracting, and indexing of salaries and stocks.
"We've tried to keep everything as real as possible," Swindler said. "It's a high-stakes class, and there are no guarantees. They have to make a profit to pass. Right now this is a pilot program on the local level," Groubert said. "But it may be national some day."
Student tasks: Each of the students has a specific job for the operation, which is in the school's industrial arts section. The jobs rotate among the employees, and the three senior CEOs do a little of everything.
"The three CEOs -- Ryan Engelhardt, Brian Gorby, and I -- know everything about the operations," DeMarco said. "We'll help with artwork, sales or whatever needs to be done.
Groubert said at first he created much of the artwork, but now the students are starting to take over. They use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photo Shop to create the art for the screens. They also use designs submitted by their customers.
"Next semester we're offering courses in Illustrator and Photo Shop," he said, "and next year they'll be offered first semester so students will learn the skills earlier in the year."
The machines that create the screens and dry the paint are expensive. The class wanted to borrow money to buy them, but that idea was nixed by the state auditor's office, Groubert said.
Funding: "We had to borrow the money from the Board of Education, and we'll pay it back over five years," he said. "The students actually wrote business plans to work this out."
Swindler explained the auditor's office did approve a special services fund to pay for the equipment and other operating expenses.
"It's a rotating fund all year long," he said. "The kids are learning accounting procedures and how to keep books just like the district treasurer does. They're learning an economic and business approach at the same time," he added. "They have to schedule workers and determine job value, too."
Members of the school board, Swindler, Clark, and Groubert serve as the advisory board for the business, which must operate after school as well as during the last period of the school day.
"With just 40 minutes of class, we're always scrambling," Groubert said. "We can do about 50 shirts in one period, though. These students are learning how to make money," he added. "We haven't made a killing, but we've been profitable."

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