Schooled in DTG

Elementary students get a lesson in DTG printing.

For the average person (who doesn’t print for a living), the opportunity to decorate your own T-shirt is much more impactful than someone simply handing you a pre-printed garment. Elementary school students at Burrell School District near Pittsburgh gained this special, firsthand experience by printing their own shirts in their classrooms.elementary DTG

The district’s Summer Reading Challenge committee came up with the idea to have each student print his or her own T-shirt celebrating the program. Melinda Kulick, Burrell’s business, computer, and information technology teacher, reached out to Allegheny Educational Systems, a technology provider for schools, to explore equipment options. She borrowed a Roland VersaStudio BT-12 direct-to-garment printer and the kids got to work. 

The reading committee selected a design that fit the environmental theme of the event, and students in kindergarten through 3rd grade voted on what text they wanted to include on their specific class T-shirt. With a tight timeline of just two weeks to complete the big project – 565 shirts – Kulick limited in-class printing to just 2nd and 3rd graders, even though the younger students could have handled the process if given the chance, she says. 

After a quick primer from the training team on how to set up, run, and clean the DTG printer, Kulick was able to show the kids what to do – and they quickly grasped the process. “My 2nd and 3rd grade classes completely owned the production process. I oversaw production while the students did everything themselves. Peer-to-peer learning happened organically where students were asking each other questions, and those who had already printed their shirt led the way by demonstrating and supporting others through the process,” Kulick says.

Elementary DTG2The classroom print shop was efficient, which allowed an entire class of 23 children to complete their shirts in a single 45-minute period. “The production line was set up so that while a student placed their shirt into the tray, another student was able to send the design to the printer so when one tray came out, another was ready to go in for printing,” she explains. “Having two trays was critical to keeping production going. To expedite production, we didn’t use the finishing unit and instead used a heat press. This allowed us to pre-press an entire class before they arrived so printing could be done right away.”

Requests for more T-shirts have been pouring in, as well as interest from other teachers who want to incorporate the technology into their class projects. “We’re hoping to acquire funds through the next school year to afford our own printer and operate a classroom-run business,” Kulick says. “The creativity that has come from students and teachers alike knowing something tangible could be produced as a keepsake and proof of their learning has been like nothing our school has been able to do in the past.”

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