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WHS student entrepreneurs get financial boost

WORTHINGTON -- An entrepreneurial venture that began at Worthington High School three years ago is receiving a welcome boost thanks to a nearly $3,400 grant high school ag teacher Jeff Rogers and business teacher Gene Lais have garnered.

The grant, awarded through the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative's Center for Rural Entrepreneurship (CORE) program, will be used to expand the equipment in the high school's sign-making class. The class is co-taught by Rogers and Lais each semester as an early bird offering at 7 a.m.

When students return to class in the fall, they will find a new printer, a 12-inch cutter and a supply of film, all purchased with the grant award. As a CORE grant recipient, the school will also benefit from classroom instruction provided by CORE staff on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

"They will guide us through the business activities," Lais said. "The kids will be responsible for production and management of the business."

In the three years since the sign-making class was established at the school, Lais and Rogers said nearly $17,000 in grant dollars have been received to purchase equipment and supplies for the student-run business. This spring, the class came up with a name for their venture, Trojan Textiles.

So far, the sign making and screen printing orders the students have filled have come from within the school district -- they made signs for the middle school, the student cheering section in the high school gym and for Worthington's hockey arena. They also designed and crafted screen-printed T-shirts declaring the high school track team as Southwest Conference champions.

"We're not looking to compete with any existing business," Lais said. "We just wanted to give kids another option to explore something new."

Lais said the class "gives students a hands-on approach" to operating a business. They have 60 students enrolled in the class for next year, split between the fall and spring semesters.

Travis Ailts, a 2008 WHS graduate, served as business manager for Trojan Textiles during his senior year. He said the class taught him a lot about the process involved in sign making and screen printing and added that he wouldn't mind dabbling in that type of business someday.

"It's taught me a lot about how to run a business," he added.

Anthony Kellen, who will be a senior in the fall, is poised to take over as the manager for Trojan Textiles. He liked the hands-on aspect of the class.

"We've learned a lot, and instead of other classes that tell you how to do something, you actually do it," Kellen said.

"It's not your typical, sit-behind-the-desk class," Ailts quipped.

"Which is nice for a business class," Kellen added.

Trojan Textiles has its own account at the school, and with the money generated from jobs, the class has invested in more supplies for the business.

"It's been a really good partnership for both the business and ag departments," Lais said.

The business lab is used for the software portion of the class, which encompasses students developing designs on computers that can then be utilized for the sign-making or screen printing portion of the class. That equipment is located in a small, second- floor space in the high school ag department's shop.

"It would be nice to have a separate classroom," Rogers said, adding there isn't any other space available for the equipment at this time.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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