Steve Mainini had a dream. Or perhaps, better put, it was a vision.
Nearly a decade ago, the Kennedy High School visual arts teacher thought it would be a pretty awesome idea if he started an on-campus silk screening shop that not only taught students about the artistic discipline, but also generated funding that could be recycled back into the school’s art program.
Six years passed by before his idea, as Mainini puts it, “fell upon the right ears.”
The right ears belonged to former West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Associate Superintendent Wendell Greer, who helped Mainini secure the startup funding to realize his vision.
In 2014, ‘Eagle Ink’ took flight, which today stands as a student-powered silk screening shop that creates T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, backpacks and the like and is expected to generate approximately $20,000 for the school’s art program and scholarships this year.
“We started the program to basically fund the arts,” said Mainini. “And then I realized that once we started getting going and once we started building a pretty good profit that we could actually build it into a program that not only supports the arts and offers new opportunities for the students here but also offers the opportunity to give them scholarships that aren’t tied down or weighted to going to college,” he added.
“We have a lot of kids who want to just go and work—they may not want to go to college right away—so these scholarships that we’re offering them are to help get them started,” said Mainini. “It’s for them—it’s for their needs.”
At the end of each school year, Mainini allocates a base amount of Eagle Ink’s profits for program funding and divides up the remaining funds for scholarships for seniors in his Graphic Arts class.
Mainini says his Graphic Arts class is a “collaborative learning” environment made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors where new students learn from veteran students while creating multicolor silk screens using computers, a dark room and two state-of-the-art shop machines: one four-head and one six-head press.
Students can design the artwork for a job or customers can supply their own artwork.
One veteran student, Melissa Salmeron, age 18, said the program has taught her real-world work skills.
“Eagle Ink has trained me how to act in a more professional job environment, so this is more than a program, it’s like a job,” said Salmeron. “You do get paid for coming here at the end of your senior year…you have to take it seriously, you have to come to class everyday—it’s basically training us for the outside world. No one’s gonna tell you when to get up, when to come to class—when to come to work, for example—this whole program is about taking initiative and being a team player.”
According to Mainini, the Eagle Ink team can produce up to two T-shirts a minute. “We run it pretty darn smooth now and the students do a remarkable job,” he said.
Currently, the students are gearing up for a huge job order: 3,000 T-shirts for teachers working at WCCUSD schools. “Every teacher will get a shirt,” said Salmeron.
In the past, Eagle Ink also has created T-shirts for the Golden State Warriors basketball team emblazoned with ‘WWKD,’ meaning “What would Kerr do?” for when the team’s coach, Steve Kerr, was injured and unable to work.
The silk screening shop welcomes orders from the community. Anyone interested can contact Steve Mainini at SMainini@wccusd.net.
“This program is very beneficial to the whole school because we do recycle the money,” said Salmeron, who hopes to attend the University of California at Irvine for college.
“I would say if anybody wants to do business with us, they should do it; it’s really giving back to the community.”