In addition to attending classes, a group of Sentinel High School students has been busy running their own business.
The Sentinel Design Lab began in October 2012 and has since seen enough success that the eight student employees are pushing to expand the amount of business they take on from the community.
Originally, the lab produced products within the Sentinel campus. Then the students expanded districtwide. Since then, they’ve done some work for Missoula Community Access Television and other community organizations, said Nathan Anderson, a senior who is the lab’s coordinator.
Now, Anderson said, the students want to form more business relationships outside of the school district.
The move could as much as double business, Anderson said.
“It’s hard to say what the future will bring, but we’re willing to work with any company,” he said.
Ultimately, the students want to push boundaries and create excellent products, he said.
“What we want to do is be innovative,” Anderson added.
For a reduced cost, the students design and produce a wide array of professional business products, from promotional videos to fliers to large posters to business cards to websites. Their work brings in $100 to $200 a month, which goes to sustaining the business, as well as scholarships for graduates, Anderson said.
At first, MCAT employee Scott Rans was skeptical about the quality of work the high school students could produce for an annual report.
“But then I got it and was like, ‘Wow, this is really good,’ ” Rans said.
The report was professional and visually appealing, he said.
So were the business cards he ordered, he added.
The lab was started to address students’ excitement about media arts, said Cindy Schultz, a teacher who advises the students.
“They can’t get enough, it seems, of that kind of stuff,” Schultz said.
That excitement has helped spur the creation of the Digital Media Academy, which will launch next fall and offer dual enrollment classes through the University of Montana. The new academy will contain the Design Lab.
In addition to becoming certified in Adobe products by taking an internationally recognized test to join the lab, students learn skills such as communication and collaboration, Schultz said.
Through working with an advisory board, the academy teachers will be able to meld classroom lessons with real-world employer needs, she said.
“And most of them said (students) need to know those soft skills,” she added.
Students take the lab for credit as an independent study, but their hours go far beyond a class period a day, Schultz said.
Lead designer Katie Pierce spends so much time in the lab that it has become like home.
When she took a first-level graphics class as a sophomore, Pierce was instantly hooked. Now she plans to pursue a degree in graphic design after graduation this year.
“I just knew,” she said about the path her life would take.
Design is a way to create art and be marketable in a digital age, Pierce said.
Anderson, too, spends more than the required amount of time in the lab and said his efforts have taught him how to communicate and work as part of a team at the same time he has learned Adobe software and business skills.
“And that follows out not only in design but in any workplace,” he said.
The business has more benefits than experience and scholarship funding, students said.
“We’re changing people’s minds about high school students,” Anderson said, adding that the program shows students as motivated and talented.
To learn more about the program and products, visit mcpsmt.org/sdl.