The graphics communications program at North Point High School recently received the 2017 Career and Technology Education Outstanding Secondary CTE Program of Excellence by the Maryland State Department of Education.
“The office of Career and Technology Education (CTE) chose to nominate graphics communications and [teacher Chris] Gilbert because of the dedication to CTE, industry, students and the Charles County Public Schools community,” Traci Chappelear, coordinator of Career and Technology Education, said. “Mr. Gilbert has consistently been a leader, modeling best practices for his students while preparing them for post-secondary opportunities that are directly linked to the four-year program at North Point.”
Work done by students in Gilbert’s classroom is seen around the county. Graphics students at North Point produce logos, designs and promotional materials for high school plays, as well as those for choirs and bands. While some “clients” send in a nearly complete product that graphics students just “clean up,” other projects are developed from scratch. Graphics students work on promotion materials for Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) events, scholarship banners for graduating classes, professional development materials for Charles County Public Schools and anything else thrown their way, including assignments.
And 100 percent of Gilbert’s students pass certification.
Gilbert studied printing in high school and carried it on while in the U.S. Navy. In his civilian life, he continued in the industry at Automated Graphics Systems in White Plains and has his master’s in graphic design. Inspired by his high school printing instructor, Gilbert always wanted to teach. When he started at North Point nine years ago, graphics communications was then a printing program. Thirty students were enrolled, and were tasked with printing basic forms for CCPS’s central office.
Evolving into a graphics communications program, it now has 80 students. It went from producing about $3,000 in materials a year, to $15,000 currently.
The increased workload came when Superintendent of Schools Kimberly Hill took office. “Science, Technology and Industry (STI) programs are designed to prepare our students for the real world, and real work,” Hill said. “Having our graphic communications students practice their skills and learn by doing was an obvious move. Students are not only saving the school system money; they are filling their portfolios with quality work that is seen by a countywide audience.”
The call went out to schools around the county to start sending projects to North Point. “It gets a little hairy at times,” Gilbert said. “There’s four or five projects always going on.” But that is how a real work situation would be. The class has a production board set up to keep track of progress on projects — pinned to the board is the current workload and where each stands in the design, proofing, printing or billing phase. When students hit a creative wall on a project, they move on to another one for a while. When a deadline looms, it’s crunch time. “You have to gauge how much to put on their plates,” Gilbert said. “You want to engage the kids, but not overwhelm them.”
“The graphic communications program is integral in producing quality work for the entire school system,” Chappelear said. “Students are project managers and are immersed in the projects from start to finish.”
Freshmen are introduced to the Adobe programs like Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. Sophomores learn more about the industry and juniors get an introduction to digital printing — the direction printing is heading in worldwide. By senior year, students are interns charged with more ambitious projects. Gilbert, as a customer, asks them to design and create a brand for a nonprofit organization. They have to pitch him a proposal and then create it.
Tavis Anderson, a senior, is in the midst of designing a magazine for the fictional gaming company, Frostbite. He is the kid who is always drawing — the margins of worksheets and tests were never safe from his doodles. “I just have to do it,” he said. Graphic design allows him a creative outlet while making way for a future in the industry. He’s looking at attending Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia or the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore where he plans to study animation.
Elizabeth Wash, a freshman, is also an artist. But she wasn’t interested in graphics — at first. She came to North Point eyeing the Academy of Health Professions program, then her mother suggested looking at Gilbert’s classes. “I came in and listened to what the program was and this is the one I had to be in,” Wash said. “Honestly, it’s helped me do amazing things.” With the skills she’s learned so far, Wash has designed her brother’s graduation party invitations, and she might have some more business lined up to practice as she advances. “I’m so excited for the future.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.