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Parkrose HS Art Club Builds Community through Screen Printing

Parkrose High School Art Club Screen Print T-Shirts

Parkrose High School Art Club Screen Print T-Shirts

After Parkrose High School teacher Sara Brannen’s last student shuffles out of her expansive art classroom for the day, Brannen heads to her car and gathers requisite resources like juice boxes and baby carrots for her next group, the Parkrose High School Art Club. Members of the art club stream in, refuel, and divvy up their roles for the afternoon. In Brannen’s second year at the high school and fourth in the district, the art club has hit its stride practicing an unconventional craft for school clubs: screen printing.

Parkrose High School art teacher Sara Brannen instructs art club members about the various tasks in screen printing.

Senior Lena Barrie serves as President of the club and loves the novelty of working with a different medium saying, “a lot of our field trips are the classic charcoal arts, portrait design, stuff like that, but this this is all machinery. That is very new and something we are trying out, and I love it! I really enjoy it, I think everybody else enjoys it, and it’s just new, and it’s different, and I think that’s something we’ve been missing for a while.” Freshman and club Vice President Leela Stanhope adds, “I like coming here after school and working on stuff. I like printing shirts since it’s the main thing. I also like that we can make designs and they actually get put on things.”

Parkrose senior and art club President Lena Barrie handles a freshly pressed t-shirt.
Club Vice President Leela Stanhope reviews the finer points of screen printing with Lena Barrie

Brannen previously incorporated screen printing as an art teacher in Little Rock, but she didn’t know what materials and technology would be available to her at Parkrose. “I am a lifelong learner,” she says. She wants to “keep kids interested in doing something relevant and something they can do all the time” and adds, “I think that having these donations from ROQ.US [through the U.N.I.T.E. Together initiative] and having [Life Skills Lead Teacher Jake Dorr, podcast guest #12] reach out to them and get all of this equipment has helped me to build a relevant curriculum for all of my classes, not just the art club. I want to bring them an art form that is relevant, something they can take skills to a career or just as a side hobby, whatever they want to do with it, something that transfers to other areas of their life.”

Tamia Powell-Nez applies heat to a recently printed shirt.

Word of this venture has begun to spread through the halls of Parkrose High School, and the art club has produced custom shirts for the Barbie-themed homecoming dance, the basketball team, the theater department, and even the National Guard. Screen printing is a multi-step process, but an initial step is creating a design. Brannen explains, “When [the art club member’s] design is chosen, they get paid for the design that they created, so now they’re not just making art to make art, they’re actually making a design to go on the piece and getting paid for the work that they did because their work has value. There’s definitely a willingness to design more things ’cause who wouldn’t want their design picked and to get paid for it and then see people wearing it in the school or being able to wear it for our club.”

Lena Barrie presents the club’s Dance the Night homecoming shirt

Brannen and the art club alike are passionate not only about the craft of screen printing but the transferable skills and entrepreneurial opportunities it helps them to develop. “They’re learning organization, time management, business skills, eye for detail, fine motor skills, so many things needed in jobs,” Brannen says. Barrie shares her interest in learning mediums with commercial potential, “I started digital art because we need those clean, fresh disciplines that are really corresponded with the new technologies, so even though there is a lot of controversy around the computers taking our jobs as artists, meshing those two together, the technology and the art, and using it to your advantage is a huge thing that we’re seeing more and more. Etsy—a lot of our students do resin art or crocheting, and they make good money doing it. It’s another clear option for them. They get to learn a bit more; they get to see a bit more.” Stanhope has been encouraged by exploring the entrepreneurial side of art, “It makes me a little less nervous about the fact that a lot of artists don’t make a lot of money, and if I’m able to do this, then I might be able to have the skills to make a lot of money or stand out in artistic fields, get a good job, and not have to be like, ‘the only thing I’m good at is art and I have no customers.’”

Mariah Steichen uses a squeegee to push and pull ink through a screen onto a shirt.

The screen printing endeavor can come as a surprise to new members of the art club because it’s a more collaborative creative process than many are used to. Brannen hopes to provide a space where students feel comfortable pursuing their own interests including more solitary artistic expressions but also team up with the other members. “I think there are 6 to 8 students who didn’t really have a place who found a place and are now so eager to do all the different jobs in our club, like they want to go on the field trip somewhere, learn how to draw, and they want to do the screen printing, they want to paint the murals in class, they’re excited about collabbing with Pathinders and doing the street murals. I think that they found their place in that.”

Sara Brannen instructs Vy Nguyen in preparing screens with photo emulsion and transparent graphics.
Vy Ngyuen carefully pressure washes a screen.

Stanhope joined the club while still in middle school and has now found her community. “I felt really out of place and scared ’cause I was just a little middle schooler, and there was all high schoolers. But I feel more in place now that I’m a high schooler,” she says and adds jokingly, “I’m still a freshman though, so I get bullied for it, you know.” She says the art club “makes me feel more connected to the school because I actually like feel like I have another place, that I belong here.”

Leela Stanhope squeegees ink through the screen while Lena Barrie inspects.

Working together with younger students was initially a challenge for some members. “We have a surprising amount of freshmen,” says Barrie, “and when we have newer people coming in, they all have very different ideas on what it should be because they don’t have the idea of the school or what we’re used to. I have learned to listen a lot more,” she adds. “Before, a lot of the freshmen had these crazy ideas—things that I never would have thought of, brought up, or any in any way attuned to art, but they are good ideas. I didn’t want to admit it at first, but they are a lot better artists than me, and they know a lot more than me… so listening to them and getting into the roots of what’s so different about how I see art and how they see art and how can we make those mesh together or find a common ground took me a while, but it was really informative.” This has been an encouraging development for Brannen whose goal is to cultivate an art community any student can feel they belong to. “They’re always here, always doing things, and always eager to help teach people and learn,” she says of the art club members. “They’re honestly really good at coming together as a group and teaching each other how to do things and working together, and it’s really cool to see that considering that the majority did not know each other.”

Oregon Army National Guard members Rashid Flores and (Parkrose alumni) Artemas Karczag stop by to see the club’s progress on their commissioned shirts.

Screen printing t-shirts is a way for art club members to connect with and serve their neighborhood. “We do a lot of shirts for other things around, like people in the neighborhood and different organizations,” Stanhope says. “So you get to have a peek into what their ideas are when they send us a t-shirt design that represents them.” Brannen reflects on the art club, “I think that it’s a really great way to bring community together, not just in school, but the whole Parkrose community, and I think the more and more this grows, the more we’re going to start taking on those community projects even like we already have and be able to build some pride within the community at large.”


You can contact Sara Brannen about the art club screen printing shirts for you at sara_brannen@parkrose.k12.or.us.

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