Design, training and business are aligned at the WHS | West

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WESTERLY — When Judea-Jon Balmonte entered Westerly High School as a freshman, he hoped he could find a way to turn a dream into a reality. On Thursday, he and some of his classmates as well as teachers and administrators celebrated a donation to the school that could make his aspiration as tangible as the shirt on his back.

Balmonte and the other members of the school’s printmaking class were on hand for a ribbon cutting to mark the donation of approximately $36,000 in equipment for a screenprinting studio at the school. The main donor is Ivory Ella, the Westerly-based clothing store known for its elephant-themed products. Students have already started using the equipment to produce custom designs on t-shirts and signs.

“I really thought it would be an opportunity for me to pursue what I had been looking forward to since freshman year…designing my own clothes,” said Balmonte, now a senior.

Balmonte, 18, co-chair of the WHS Future Business Leaders of America chapter, is developing his own branded clothing line as part of his main project. The work combines her interests in art, design and business. “Creating my own clothing line and branding it so other people can like the shirts I make. That’s what I wanted to do. I never really had cool clothes when I was a kid,” did he declare.

With the new gifts, the class is now equipped with two four-color presses, two two-color presses, a heater, a darkroom, a wash station, a vinyl cutter digital and artistic program software.

“It’s basically the whole screen printing process I have at Ivory Ella, just a little bit smaller. It’s an amazing feeling for me to know that maybe I could give an opportunity to one of you bringing this to the fore For me, it’s truly an honor to bring this to you,” said Jay Reid, Print Production Specialist at Ivory Ella.

The donation is part of the company’s Pay it Forward competition. Westerly High School students created a video explaining why they wanted the studio and how they would benefit from it. The company selected the video as the winner, and the school became the fourth to receive a screen printing studio from Ivory Ella and several other apparel printing manufacturers.

As part of the contest, the school kicked off a canned food drive on Thursday and collected more than 280 items and an additional $300 in cash to be donated to the WARM center. In exchange for food and cash donations of at least $10, students received the school’s annual “Turkey Day” t-shirt. This year’s jersey for the annual Thanksgiving game with Stonington was designed and produced by students using the new studio. The school has also agreed, as part of the Ivory Ella competition, to donate a percentage of all profits it makes from the sale of t-shirts and merchandise to charities.

Assistant Principal Kevin Cronin said the studio is an addition to the school’s career readiness initiative. “This will help produce students who will be proficient in this area…and ready to work,” he said.

Reid, who was first exposed to the industry as a teenager, agreed, noting that screen printing companies struggle to find experienced workers.

“It’s very hard to find someone who has a background in screen printing,” Reid said. “It’s a great little thing to have in your back pocket. It’s never something I thought I’d make a career out of, but eventually it fell into my lap and made me very successful.”

During the celebration, a group of business students from the school stopped by the studio to collect boxes of Turkey Day shirts.

“The connection between departments is exactly what we dream of when the kids of marketing promote it and the kids of business sell it and those kids produce it, and we have the kids of art designing it. That approach holistic learning is really what kids should be doing,” said Michael Hobin, Principal of Westerly High School.

Cronin, Hobin and Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau congratulated Ivory Ella and the other companies for the donation. “It would have taken years to budget and build and we would have had sporadic interest. With all of this in a good way, it’s getting a lot of interest,” Hobin said.

Students are now able to apply their ideas throughout the creative process, said Christopher Kelley, the art teacher who teaches the screen printing class. Starting with the initial idea, students can go next, where Kelley teaches a digital design class equipped with 18 iMacs running Adobe Creative Cloud.

“We have the whole process. It’s pretty cool to see him go from an idea, to the process, to applying the techniques, to a finished product. It’s pretty amazing,” Kelley said.

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