Behind the Scenes with Studio B: Blue Hill student entrepreneurs blend passion and purpose with a whole lot of heart

Behind the Scenes with Studio B: Blue Hill student entrepreneurs blend passion and purpose with a whole lot of heart

By Tyler Dahlgren

For a good chunk of every day, Christine Brown’s classroom at Blue Hill Community School is 100 percent hustle and bustle. When “Studio B”, a student-led business, is in the house, things get done.

Trying to keep up with the 15 movers and shakers that have built Studio B into a bonafide printing and production company can make one’s head spin. Everyone’s always working on something different every day, utilizing the classroom’s two heat press machines and vinyl cutters to create and sell an array of high quality merchandise.

"I just kind of sit back in awe of them," said Brown, who teaches 7-12 art and FCS in addition to Studio B. "They're so, so talented."

The idea for Studio B was Brown’s. Two years ago, she wrote a successful CTE (Career and Technical Education) grant that started an endeavor that has, so far, exceeded their expectations. Though still in its early stages, Studio B has designed and printed shirts for seemingly everybody in the community, as well as for other school districts and even universities.

Brown credits 9-12 math teacher Emily Kohmetscher and a whole lot of YouTube for the classroom’s quick education on operating their machinery (next year, they’ll add a laser engraver and a 3D printer to the fold), and said the rest has been her students’ collectively keen business sense.

“It’s a really rewarding experience being able to come up with an idea in your head and then to bring that idea to life, first on a computer screen and then finally into something tangible, like a shirt,” said senior Mallory Moorman. “That’s a really cool part of hands-on learning, is just seeing the progression of the projects.”

Ask the group what they’re currently working on, and prepare to be flooded with answers. Shirts for the Campbell Area Foundation and the Webster County Fair. Shirts for Saint Cecilia and The Battle of the Blue and for the hospital’s breast cancer awareness campaign. Producing a video for a $20,000 grant that would allow Blue Hill to offer daycare services.

They do everything. I couldn’t keep up.

“I want them to be independent thinkers, which they’ve definitely become,” said Brown. “Last year, all of us were learning this together. Now, they’re running it themselves. They’re innovative and they’re always thinking outside the box.”

Last year, Studio B produced over 3,000 shirts. They’ve eclipsed that mark already this year. The amount of work done in this classroom is crazy, said Brown, and the students are making a substantial amount of money, so much that most of them don’t need the part time job that high schoolers customarily hold.

There’s one project in particular that the group will remember the most. The one they’re proudest of.

Blue Hill, the students say, is one big family. When athletic director Riley Armes’ two-year-old son Ryder was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the school and its community rushed to help in any way they could, like small towns do.

“Everyone in the community wanted to find some way to help out,” said senior Marcus Utecht. “We realized we kind of had this specialty in shirt-making and that we could produce shirts for the family and turn it into a fundraiser.”

The 15 students in Studio B put a plan in place, and then, true to form, they got right to work. Senior Kelsy Kohmetscher said Ellie Mangers, the lone sophomore in the class, really took the reins and ran with the project. Everyone had a job.

“Once the shirts came in, we all helped in different ways,” said Kohmetscher. “We cut the vinyl and then we had a team pressing and a team folding all the shirts and passing them out to everyone who bought them in school.”

In two and a half days, Studio B produced more 440 “Leukemia Warrior” t-shirts, which are still flying off the shelves. To date, they’ve raised over $4,100 for the Armes family.

“It’s a strong community,” said Mangers. “We’ll help out anybody that’s in need.”

“We’re all there to step in,” agreed senior Emma Karr.

It was a proud moment for Brown, whose heart warms every time she sees one of the t-shirts “out in the wild.”

“You’ll be shopping in Walmart and somebody will walk by and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, my kids made that shirt,’” she said. “It’s just a neat thing. You can see the impact out in the community that these guys have made, and that’s pretty amazing.”

In more ways than they’d anticipated, being involved with Studio B has strengthened the connection the students have with their community.

“Individually, we’ve all had a part in shirts you’ll see out in the community,” said Kohmetscher, who even sold shirts out of a downtown business near Christmastime. “It teaches you a lot. A lot that you don’t think about until you’ve done it and see how much you’ve grown throughout the course of a year. We gain skills you don’t typically learn in a normal classroom setting.”

Skills like problem-solving, communication and time management come to mind. With so many moving parts, those traits are essential, said Karr.

“You really have to be thinking on your feet at all times, and moving fast,” Karr continued.

The plan for next year is to diversify operations. The laser engraver and 3D printer will open the door to a million more possibilities. Once they learn how to use them, that is. Brown knows they will, and that the results will be spectacular.

That’s the thing about Studio B. It’s “Go, go, go!” until tomorrow becomes today, and then they flip the page and embark on something new. It’s their passion at their pace, and everything they do is loaded with purpose and, oftentimes, a whole lot of heart.

“I’d say it brings out the best leaders we have in our school,” said Kohmetscher.

The folks around Blue Hill would tell you she’s absolutely right.