A team of seventh graders from South Middle School in Joplin are paving the way for future generations of entrepreneurs by launching a screen printing workshop called Eagle Threads.
Lily Breidenstein, 12, Libby Munn, 13, Lucy Erisman, 13, and Kutler Schwarting, 12, are the students behind the operation. The project is evolving into a full-time course that students will take next year.
Patrick Bromley, professor of industrial technology, obtained a teaching grant through the Joplin Schools Foundation to launch the initiative. The organization used to provide annual grants through its Excellence in Education program, which aims to fund projects that enhance students’ learning experiences through innovative and creative techniques.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to teach kids how to do a specific trade and also get hands-on customer service experience,” Bromley said. “I applied for the grant last year and we received the equipment for the grant in September.”
Bromley received $2,400 for equipment, including ink, screen printing machine and dryer. Eagle Threads launched in October and students have created over 100 jerseys for the high school girls’ basketball team and the Special Olympics.
“It was a great experience and you can learn a lot from it,” Lily said. “For example, Mr. Bromley helped me a lot in communicating with people. You need to have a great customer service type outlook on this.
Matt Hiatt, the school district’s athletic director, said more than 150 jerseys have been ordered for the women’s basketball team and the quality is impressive. The group is currently working on designing and printing 150 shirts for the Kaminsky Classic men’s basketball tournament.
“I found it to be very professional and on par or better than a lot of the companies we work with here, in terms of the design process and that sort of thing,” Hiatt said. “I’m excited to help out when I have the opportunity and to help provide real-life experiences for our children at this age.”
Gabe Allen, owner of G&S Graphix in Joplin, mentored the students and taught the team the ins and outs of screen printing. Allen, who opened her screen printing and embroidery business in 2011, said it was nice to see college kids intrigued by the industry.
“I was very impressed with the abilities and skill levels of the seventh graders because they pick up very quickly,” Allen said. “You can start them at the college level and explain to students that there are many avenues and areas to explore later in life.”
Kutler occasionally visits G&S Graphix to print if a customer’s order exceeds 200 shirts.
“For me, I thought there was no way to do all of this at first, but now it’s like the other way around,” he said. “I’m amazed. I think in the future, if I ever needed something to fall back on, I could do it.
Each of the four students has a shop-specific title, which can rotate throughout the semester to allow them to practice different skill sets. Kutler is the store manager, who mainly handles the practical printing of the project. Lucy helps run the business as marketing manager. Libby and Lily are both head organizers and look after the customer service side of the business.
“It’s probably the first time in their lives that if something goes wrong, they have to find a way to fix it,” Bromley said. “That’s where their mistakes mean something. They have to solve problems in the real world, and I think that’s important for children. »
Their tasks for each mission are written on a large dry erase board called a task board. As customers call in orders, shirt numbers are noted, and a student is assigned as the project leader.
“I learned a lot more about business than I knew before arriving, and I realized how important it is to place orders correctly and not forget a single shirt,” said Libby.
The company has its own Facebook page called “SMS Eagle Threads”. As a marketing manager, Lucy took it upon herself to drive more followers to the page by running a giveaway contest for a free shirt, which more than doubled the number.
“I never thought I would be good at design and marketing,” Lucy said.
The students said they had no idea of the steps involved in making a shirt and now had a newfound respect for clothing. They will all take the course again next year.
“It’s cool to think that 20 years from now Eagle Threads could still be running, and I could go back and say I was one of the people who helped start this,” Kutler said.
Patrick Bromley, an industrial technology teacher, said his seventh graders are saving proceeds they get from Eagle Threads to award a $250 grant to a teacher in the school district.