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Communication technology class gives students hands-on experience

RIVERVIEW — Kasey Cook stared at the school map on the computer screen in front him.

With a steady hand, he clicked and traced over the fuzzy lines of the Riverview High School hallways.

When he is done, the school will have a crisp, updated campus map instead of the old, blurry one Cook is using Adobe Photoshop to fix up.

"It's very time consuming," said Cook, 16. "You have to be very patient to do it."

Cook is part of the Communication Technology program at Riverview High School. It's a small program, with classes at Riverview and Durant High School, and a few at the middle school level open to eighth-graders.

Students in three different levels convene in Ron Sharitz's lab classroom at Riverview every morning at 9:30 a.m. Some work on a Photoshop review assignment, while others work on making their own tutorials for some of the skills they are learning in class.

The highest level students in Level 4 take on projects for the school or local businesses. They focus on every aspect of production, including creation, installation, the business side and customer service. The money they make from the projects sold in school and from signs, banners or other products for businesses in the community goes back into the program, to help purchase supplies or equipment.

Costs add up, Sharitz said. The classes are budgeted about $18 per student each year in state funding, he said. A pack of laminate used in screen printing projects is $40. Many of the products they use are petroleum based, so costs can fluctuate right along with the price of gas. He has students work in groups as much as possible to save money.

Level 4 students will begin working on a fundraiser soon, printing people's submitted family photos on canvas and stretching them onto custom-assembled frames.

For another upcoming project, they'll sell custom cellphone cases they've designed.

Riverview and Durant also offer students the opportunity to test for industry certification with Adobe software. Sharitz runs an Adobe Club, encouraging students who aren't in the class to practice for the certification test as well.

"It's a great way for them to see what industry exams are like," he said.

The certification won't secure students a graphic design job straight out of high school; a college degree is still largely necessary. But having the certification can put a student ahead of other college applicants who don't have it, or help them find jobs at vinyl shops, print shops or with sign makers, Sharitz said.

"Even if they don't go into communication technology, it's good to see that on a young person's resume," said Claire Mawhinney, assistant principal for curriculum at Durant. "It puts them ahead of other applicants."

Durant has six full classes of communication technology, all with at least 25 students, Mawhinney said. The school averages between 150 and 200 students in the program each year.

The program appeals to a diverse group of students, Mawhinney said, from honors students to kids struggling in school.

"They can get on the computer and be computer literate, even if they struggle with reading," she said. "They can go out and make a living."

The classes are very hands-on, both Mawhinney and Sharitz said. The Riverview lab is crowded with computers, embroider machines for making hats and shirts, huge printers that can create banners, a small room with equipment for laser etching. On Character Day during Homecoming Week, Sharitz pulls out the helmet that goes with the 60-pound costume of a Halo video game character he made from foam using 3D design software. Students have access to the same design software.

Jocelyn Colon, a Riverview senior, is one of Sharitz's Level 4 students. She started taking the class as a freshman. She wasn't sure what the class was, but once she started taking it, she enjoyed it. One of her favorite projects is laser etching on glass.

"Before this class I was useless when it came to computers, but they taught me a lot I didn't know before," she said. "Now I feel like I have more opportunities."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2453.

Communication technology class gives students hands-on experience 12/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 2:39pm]
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