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Inspiring Teacher Uses $1M Grant to Teach Students Real-World Skills to Succeed When College is Not an Option.

By weldadmin | August 27, 2019

“This woman deserves a medal!”

That caught our attention. It’s not the usual comment left on a T3 Extreme installation report from a field service engineer.

Our field engineer, Brian Hill, further expanded on his admiration for our new customer. “She is awesome and really does deserve some recognition for what she is doing for these high school kids at an inner-city school. All of the teachers and maintenance staff I met yesterday were there on their own time preparing rooms and setting up new equipment for the coming school year. Awesome people!”

Brian explained that Leticia Miller, a teacher at Gardena High School, used her recently awarded grant money to start a graphics design, print shop and banner finishing class. She found our T3 Extreme welder on YouTube, which is a perfect fit for her class.

Somehow the stars aligned, and sales manager Laura Teter was able to sit down with this amazing teacher to hear more about her innovative program.

Leticia Miller

Thirteen years ago Leticia Miller had an idea, offer her students a program that would give them real-world skills to allow them to succeed without the need for a college degree. “The Los Angeles United School District mandate is college and career ready.” Miller explained “Well that’s great. However, all kids aren’t going to college, and a vocational education is definitely viable. I think it’s important. Kids are losing interest in the academics and having to sit in class all the time. I wanted a space where they could see, number one, how necessary their academics are. Number two, for the kids who get restless, give them something to do. They can use their hands and put things together. Making and creating things. So, that was my idea.”

Basing the program on her own background in graphics and printing, Miller dreamed of a unique educational program where students would learn the necessary skills needed to manage a graphic design company from beginning to end. Her students would learn how to create graphic designs within the Adobe Suite software, then print them on a heavy-duty printer, and finally learn how to operate a hot wedge welding machine to finish all four sides of a banner. But an apathetic administration and lack of funding kept her dream on hold.

Then in 2016, she applied for the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG) through the California Department of Education. Her grant was approved, and she was awarded nearly a million dollars. This substantial funding was enough for her to stop dreaming and start realizing her vision.

Adobe Design Classroom

Her idea was to create two learning spaces. A computer lab where the students would learn the printing software; and an adjacent production facility, where they would create the physical product with a commercial printer and material welding machine. “When the kids are driving around town and they see these billboards or bus benches or any other kind of printed material, they wonder ‘how did it get there?’ I wanted them to be able to go through the entire process, from idea to delivery.

Print and Production Classroom

Miller established a three-year pathway to mastering the Adobe Suite Software program. The first year they learn InDesign, followed by Illustrator in the second year, and finally Photoshop in the third. After each year they have the opportunity to take the Adobe certification exam, which can qualify them as an Adobe Certified Expert. Bringing all three of these software programs together will give the students a real understanding of printing and graphics and how they can be applied

By the third year, her students have an investment. They have an investment in the class, as well as an investment in themselves. Working hard to learn two software programs, showing Miller they want to be here. The students will have the basic knowledge of graphic design, printing, color management and production. They are learning all of the design elements before going into production their third year, using the printer and the T-3 Extreme.

Not only will students be learning how to use the machines, they will learn to factor how much material they need, the cost and the time the project will take. Essentially giving them a taste of what it is like to be a graphic designer and printer if they want to do print brokering. One of the biggest lessons is learning time management. She has also set up a production monitor in class which allocates a challenging task to each student such as editor, lead person or production manager. She is trying to bring together all the facets of a project so they can understand that when you go out and get a job, it’s not just one thing, you have to possess a multitude of skills in order to accomplish that one thing.

From Left to Right: Laura Teter (Miller Weldmaster Sales Representative) and Leticia Miller (Teacher at Gardena High School)

Another aspect of the program teaches the students sales concepts by working with clients, such as the school softball team or the Gardena Chamber of Commerce. The funds raised from students’ work is invested back into the program to upgrade classroom facilities and pay for printing supplies.

 Going forward, Miller would like to expand the program. She is working with the school’s video production teacher on the idea of an Academy within Gardena High School, calling it ‘The Creative Arts Academy’. The idea is to create an interdisciplinary curriculum where the students can collaborate with each other. They will be involved in projects such as the fall and spring musicals, where the students will create all of the print media. This will equip them with both the practical skills and life lessons to work with a client and how they can meet the client’s needs. They will learn how to take criticism and critiques. She is also trying to get the academic teachers involved so that they’re checking all of their English and helping to integrate math. Ultimately, she wants to create an academy where they can do graphic design, video production, music (they have a great band!), dance, and theater“  Most of my kids don’t go to college, most of these kids need another path.” Explains Miller, “My dream is to see my kids get a job, to be able to get out of here. All around us, these classrooms full of computers and production machines, are proof that a dream can start small but can become a really big thing.”

Millers final advice? “If you have a dream, you can make it happen.” Her story is an awe-inspiring example of what a person can achieve when they have a tremendous amount of passion and a steadfast vision.