Business and computers teacher Adam Joslin, career connections teacher Kelly Abernathy and art teacher Chris Cowan joined forces three years ago to start a T-shirt printing business that allows students to create, print and sell custom T-shirts for …
Business and computers teacher Adam Joslin, career connections teacher Kelly Abernathy and art teacher Chris Cowan joined forces three years ago to start a T-shirt printing business that allows students to create, print and sell custom T-shirts for school groups, sports teams, businesses and others.
The young entrepreneurs also learn about the financial side of running a business, such as creating invoices and tracking expenses and revenue, in the classroom.
Joslin, who got the idea from seeing T-shirt vendors at athletic events, said he wanted to do this project to give his students “real-world opportunities.”
“The thing that kicked it off for me was eighth-graders doing accounting,” he said. “I would try to show them a balance sheet, and they would not have a clue what any of those numbers meant. But if we could start keeping track of those things on our own of what we sell and where the money comes from and what we have to spend money on ... I think they’re able to understand it a little bit more. The end goal is to plug it into just about every standard to where they see a real-world scenario of how business concepts work in the real world.”
Cowan called the T-shirt business “a neat program” that has “a lot of potential.”
“One of the things we have trouble with is getting the kids to understand that what we’re going over in class can really apply [to life],” he said. “There’s an industry out there where people create things, and people are making money off of it and making a product out of it.”
While the school was moving into its current location in 2013, Joslin and Abernathy were making plans to start the business by applying for grants.
“When we built the new school, we were able to write one big grant for most of the equipment,” Joslin said. “Our initial grant paid for most of the equipment [heat presses, T-shirt printer and sublimation printer], about $5,000.”
Since then, they have won four grants — totaling $2,000 — from the Bartow Education Foundation to buy an embroidery machine, another heat press, a Cricut vinyl cutter and software.
“We have paid to keep the business running from our proceeds from the business,” Joslin said, adding prices depend on the job but have ranged from $5 to $20 per shirt.
Cowan creates most of the designs for the shirts, and the 360 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in Joslin and Abernathy’s classes work on printing out the designs, turning them into heat transfers and pressing them onto T-shirts and other clothing like jerseys, hoodies, wind suits, shorts and pants.
Students also use the Cricut to create designs with clip art and other images from the internet and cut them into vinyl transfers that are heat-pressed onto the clothing.
They also can use the sublimation printer, which uses heat to transfer dye onto clothing not made from cotton.
“We’ve just kind of continued to grow the business, and that allows more kids to be involved,” Joslin said. “We try to give them different jobs. Some may be printing stuff out. Some may be making transfers. We’re trying to give them real-world scenarios so that the information [they learn in class] makes sense.”
The students also have the capability to do such non-clothing items as window clings, coffee mugs, car decals and cell phone covers.
“We’ve got tons of options of things like that we can do,” Abernathy said. “I’m sure we haven’t found everything we can do yet.”
But for now, the teachers want to limit the products to shirts and to try to keep the orders small to find a balance between working in the lab and learning the business standards like marketing, supply and demand, economics, personal finance, accounting and risk management in the classroom.
“The focus is still on learning so we’re not able to do everything,” Joslin said. “We’re actually staying small just so that we can get enough experience but still learn what we need to in the classroom.”
Once the orders are filled, students have to move to the payment phase of the process.
“We make them create an invoice that we send to customers, but instead of them just coming up and creating a blank invoice that they never know how to use, they’re able to see that invoice ... and they’re able to see real-world scenarios of how they use some of the stuff that we learn on the computer side,” Joslin said.
Having students learn the ropes of entrepreneurship is “teaching responsibility,” according to Joslin.
“The kids have to produce a quality product, and the more they mess up, the more they realize that costs money,” he said. “... We talk about in the real world that when you mess up, there are consequences, and you have to fix those things. You can’t make a product that nobody will buy.”
Seventh-grader Abigail Simpson has enjoyed working on shirts for Adairsville Elementary School and AMS track team members, whose T-shirts she was helping to press Thursday.
“I like how it teaches us many skills that could be used in the real world, and I like how it gets the kids to interact with doing it instead of just watching,” the 13-year-old said. “I’m very happy that they allow us to do things like make T-shirts for the school because it lets us work with others and learn many skills we can use once we’re out of school.”
Hunter Brott, also a seventh-grader who was working on track team shirts, said he likes “doing the press and making them.” “I think it’s great,” said the 13-year-old, who also has pressed shirts for the AMS softball team and Beta Club. “It just shows that they trust us to do things extra.”
Twelve-year-old Rachelle Kimbrough was using the heat press in Abernathy’s classroom Thursday to press vinyl decals on 23 AMS Student Government Association shirts for a field trip to the State Capitol Wednesday.
The seventh-grader is one of a handful of students who Abernathy allows to work freely on shirt orders.
“[A T-shirt business at school is] pretty cool because he doesn’t let everyone do it because he only trusts some people, and I’m glad that he trusts me with that,” she said.
“She ain’t wrong about that,” Abernathy added.
The teachers have discovered some things about their students since starting the business.
“You do start to see strengths, and even some weaknesses, of kids, and you see what kids are made to do and how they function when they’re doing what they’re created to do, and that’s pretty interesting,” Joslin said.
Abernathy said he’s learned some kids don’t have the patience for weeding – the tedious task of removing the excess vinyl that’s not part of the design that’s been cut by the Cricut.
“The patience it takes to do it, a lot of them can’t do it,” he said. “They just say, ‘No, I can’t do this.’ So it kind of helps build patience, I would think.”
But he said he does have two girls who “are super-patient and really good at it.”
Joslin has a couple of goals he hopes to accomplish in the near future.
Right now, the money being generated from shirt sales is being put back into the business, but once the lab has everything the students need, he would like to use some of the income to pay for a rewards system for students who have done a good job.
He also said he would like the students to do a project that would “just take them through the whole gamut of everything that’s required” to run a real business – sell a T-shirt, design it, have the supplies for it, make the transfers, create the invoice, collect money.