Apollo-Ridge students get education in business

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

As Apollo struggles to bring businesses to the borough and its surrounding areas, an Apollo-Ridge High School pilot program is setting up shop.

The pilot program, known as A-R Inc., is an elective technology education class in which students use the tools at their disposal to collectively launch a live business.

In its inaugural year, A-R Inc. students are producing and marketing picnic tables with custom-ordered centerpiece engravings. The class will collect all of the revenue it generates to sustain production and support future projects.

Technology education teacher and program co-founder Jeff Jones said he launched A-R Inc. to provide students with hands-on, practical experience they won't find in traditional classroom settings.

“It exposes students to the real world and shows them what it takes to make it,” he said. “They're learning classic design and production skills. At the same time, though, they're figuring out what it takes to effectively market a product and build a growing business model.

“That's an invaluable experience that they've never had before.”

A-R Inc. is selling the tables at $100. Jones said the 30 or so students in the class want to sell about 50 tables by year's end, which would generate close to $2,500 for the program.

While students have yet to begin advertising, they've received 15 orders from local customers who learned about the class through word of mouth. Each customer ordered a different design to be engraved in the table's center.

“We can put anything on there,” Jones said. “It's pretty cool to see the final outcome.”

The students upload the clients' desired images — everything from photographs to logo stencils — into a computer program called CorelDRAW. Students use the program to crop, resize and calibrate the image for laser etching by enlarging its pixels.

After that, the laser etches the final image onto an 8-by- 16-inch block of non-treated wood to serve as the table's centerpiece.

Tech ed teacher Dustin Traill, who helped Jones found the program, said the design aspect of the program teaches students valuable tools that can lead to successful careers.

“Everything about A-R Inc. is designed for real-world application,” Traill said. “The computer design and laser portion of it is no exception. I've had students who used what they learned from the program in other classes start their own vinyl design businesses.”

Requested designs for the centerpiece include the Apollo-Ridge Vikings mascot, family photos, personal drawings and family crests. Students can also build tables with umbrella holes rather than engravings in the center.

Rachel Jaworskyj, A-R Inc. treasurer, said students are using the graphic design program to advertise their product. She, along with fellow sophomores Leigha Coleman and Brett Musen, are in the process of designing an A-R Inc. website and are preparing to release order forms and business cards.

“A lot of it is trial and error and trying to figure out what the customers are looking for,” Jaworskyj said. “It's about as real an experience as you're going to get from a high school class.”

Jones doesn't fear that an influx of orders from advertising will backlog production.

After spending the early part of the school year developing a business plan and template for building the tables, he said the class can finish building one table during a single class period. That's made possible by an assembly line-style production in which students are assigned to a station to build one part of the table before it's all put together.

Junior Tre Tipton, A-R Inc. secretary, spends the majority of his second-period classes helping build the tables' legs. For him, the class is a welcome reprieve from the monotony of classroom lectures.

“It's fun to get out of the classroom and work with your hands,” he said. “It's unlike any other class I've ever had, and I'm learning a lot about what the business world might be like.”

Sophomore Zach Byers said A-R Inc. is his favorite class. His enthusiasm for the program apparently rubbed off on his family, which placed one of the 15 orders for a table. They requested their family name to appear in the centerpiece.

“It's been an amazing experience,” Byers said. “It's really encouraging to see what we can do when we work as a team.”

Jones plans to keep the program running for as long as it has funding. Based on the early interest, he shouldn't have a problem carrying A-R Inc. into next year.

“I'm really proud of the way students have responded to this,” he said. “It will be great to see them carry these skills with them into the future.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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