Students in Shawn Sandahl’s Print Shop classes at Vintage High School do not need reminders to settle down, take a seat and get out their textbooks. That’s because this is not your typical classroom.
This is Print Shop – a “class” where students use hands-on learning to print and produce all kinds of usable items — from building signs to banners, T-shirts, stickers, window and vehicle graphics and sweatshirts.
Many of the products are used for school events and promotions, but they also have real-life clients who agree to hire the print shop to create products.
For example, the students had one day to print 400 school sweatshirts for the annual football Big Game. “That was not an easy task,” said Sandahl. “But the kids were really proud of taking on that challenge.”
The class is divvied into work teams and each receives job folders for projects they are responsible for. A job board on one wall also keeps the process organized.
It includes details such as the team working on each project, the customer name, order date, due date, description and production status. Students work independently and are responsible for fulfilling the job order.
Some of the team positions include production manager, sales manager, art director, marketing and social media.
Besides the school itself, Print Shop has done work for a nonprofit called Families Helping Families, the Napa County Office of Education, Leading Edge Supply (an ag industry company), That’s My Dog hot dog cart and others.
Prices vary depending on the project and quantity, but shirt screen printing typically starts at $8 per shirt, stickers at 25 cents each, banners and signage at $3.50 per square foot and buttons at 10 cents each.
“I feel like my students get a great mix of technical and soft skills that they can take with them into their post-secondary or career path,” said Sandahl.
“I’m really trying to build employability skills,” that can be used regardless of career path. That includes “soft skills” like speaking in front of a group, customer service and even basics like meeting deadlines and showing up on time.
The class was developed by the Napa County Office of Education College and Career Readiness Department, in partnership with Napa Valley Unified School District. It’s held at the Vintage campus.
The agencies work with Career Technical Education (CTE) programs and support CTE work throughout the state. Their vision is for students to graduate high school with a better understanding of themselves and their career path and to be prepared to be successful in college, career and life.
Because it’s a CTE program, technically students from other public high schools can attend. For example, a Valley Oak High School student is also enrolled, said Sandahl.
The class includes two levels, an introduction and advanced class.
Known as a two-year “pathway,” the program provides a hands-on environment focusing on the elements and principles of artistic design, the design process and the global history of printing techniques.
The pathway offers a variety of printing processes including layout and design, offset and block printing, silkscreen printing, and papermaking. Level two students run a fully operational print shop as a business providing services to local schools and the community.
Sandahl’s large Print Shop classroom includes all kinds of printing and sign-making equipment, including a large format digital printer that can print items as large as 54” wide, machines for printing T-shirts and sweatshirts, various printers and copiers and even button makers.
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In 2016 Sandahl was hired to take over the program. He’s newer to teaching but not new to the printing industry. He has 20 years’ experience and owned (and still runs) his own screen printing, embroidery and design business. After being approached by the NCOE to take over the program, his first reaction was to say no.
Even though his mother is a high school teacher, it wasn’t a career he’d really considered.
“Teaching is its own animal,” said Sandahl. “I didn’t think I had the personality.”
He wasn’t sure he could hold the attention of high school students, he admitted. But after hearing about the program and visiting the campus, “the universe was telling me I had to do it,” he said. And the timing was perfect — he was already transitioning his business to be home-based again, he said.
Sandahl admitted to being quite nervous his first days on the job. He was also fairly tough, he admitted. But because “I come from a place of honesty and realness, I think that resonates with the students.”
Plus, even though he’s 45, “I’m young at heart,” he said. “I can relate” to the students.
Today, the job is a natural fit, said the teacher. In fact, he’s been nominated twice for the school’s teacher of the year.
One of his students this year is Esai De Haro-Llamas, a senior.
He loves to design, said De Haro-Llamas. And even though the class is just one hour a day – it’s the first hour of school, which he likes. “It feels like another home,” said De Haro-Llamas.
One of his favorite projects included custom stickers he designed of himself on a bucking horse. He also designed a logo for a friend’s horseshoe company and T-shirts for a VHS Crusher leadership group.
Angelica Avila, a sophomore, said she wasn’t sure what elective to sign up for at first but she’s glad she chose Print Shop.
“I like coming up with ideas and putting things together” for projects, she said. “That’s cool.”
She also likes learning different programs like Adobe Illustrator, said Avila. “It’s really fun to be part of this class.”
“I’ve always had a fascination for graphic design,” said student Emiliano Garcia-Marrero, a senior.
“It helps you put your creativity into something useful,” Garcia-Marrero said. Ultimately, “what you make is what other people see. Your voice will shine through depending on your graphic ability.”
“To be able to inspire kids to take this on as a career path is amazing,” Sandahl said. “You’ve had some small part of them growing as a person.”
In the future, Sandahl hopes to build the program to include more advanced classes and to scale the business/classroom model “to not only be able to produce more products for Vintage High and to do more work in the community, but to also develop a model that can be replicated into more schools.”