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Spartan Manufacturing offers custom items with a technical edge

The program had its soft start this semester. It is poised to become a class next year.

Senior Ed Hakanson uses a plasma cutter to make a saw tree in an Industrial Tech room at Superior High School
Senior Ed Hakanson uses a plasma cutter to make a saw tree in an Industrial Tech room at Superior High School on Thursday, Nov. 3. Hakanson is part of the Spartan Manufacturing club at SHS.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Students involved in the soft start of Superior High School’s Spartan Manufacturing have had a busy first quarter.

Their tin can pumpkins sold out in an hour. Work is wrapping up on 500 custom mugs for Cenovus Energy. An order for 500 laser engraved tumblers just came in from Enbridge. They’ve reached one financial milestone — $1,000 in sales — and are moving to the next, $5,000.

Ed Hakanson makes a tree out of an old saw with his plasma cutter
Ed Hakanson makes a tree out of an old saw with his plasma cutter in an Industrial Tech room at Superior High School on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Students on the Spartan Manufacturing team meet daily during seventh hour to design projects, turn out custom products, run quality control and connect with customers.

“The whole goal for us is to have the students use their skills that they’ve attained at the school and actually apply it to a real-world setting, and so we’re starting a real-world business under the umbrella of the school district that they’re going to be working for the community,” said technical education instructor Spike Gralewski.

Whether it’s agricultural products, gift items or manufactured parts for a commercial business, the young entrepreneurs can make it.

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“Just about anything that’s going to give students a chance to interact with other community members and build their soft skills,” said technical education instructor Adam Kuhlman.

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Superior High School freshman Lily Burm conducts a quality control check on laser engraved mugs the Spartan Manufacturing team made for Cenovus Energy during seventh hour on Tuesday, Nov. 8. As part of the order, the students running the business had to exchange the plain tops that the cups came with for cups with slider lids.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The 10 guiding principles of the business include showing up reliably, getting along and being flexible — skills that will serve the students beyond graduation.

“Our product is going to be good people; it’s going to be good students coming out of this program,” Gralewski said.

The program is on track to become a two-hour class for juniors and seniors next year. Spartan Manufacturing is one of the new classes that will be brought before the Superior School Board for approval Dec. 5, Gralewski said. In addition to students with skills in wood and metal working, juniors and seniors interested in business and marketing will also be encouraged to apply for Spartan Manufacturing.

Kuhlman said it’s been a rewarding experience to launch Spartan Manufacturing.

“Every day is something a little different and I mean, we’ve had some challenges just manufacturing different things and the kids keep stepping up and meeting their goals or meeting those challenges,” he said.

Educators put a lot of energy into helping students build their technical skills in introductory classes, Kuihlman said. Spartan Manufacturing allows them to see that work come to fruition as the students themselves become the experts.

The six student pioneers who regularly attended the seventh hour Spartan Manufacturing sessions are on track to receive half a credit for the semester.

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On Tuesday, Nov. 8, senior Ed Hakanson used a plasma cutter to turn a hand saw into a decorative pine tree. He couldn’t pinpoint what drew him to take part in Spartan Manufacturing, but he said it’s been interesting and he feels like he’s “part of something bigger.”

The benefits of the program were obvious to the senior.

“Real life skills and applications — that’s huge. That’s what you need to get out of school, that real world experience,” Hakanson said.

Ed Hakanson takes a closer look at a tree he was making out of an old saw with his plasma cutter
Ed Hakanson takes a closer look at a tree he was making out of an old saw with his plasma cutter at Superior High School on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

It’s different from other classes offered at the school, said junior Summer Moen.

“Kind of got your own thing going instead of having the teachers telling you how to do something — you get your own projects now,” she said.

Moen is currently designing a cattle guard that will allow ATVs to pass over an electric fence without opening the gate. It was commissioned by her uncle, Nathan Johnstad, and is her first big project.

“I think this will be something I’ll enjoy doing,” Moen said, and she was happy to know her uncle trusts her to build it.

Junior Sam Meller spent part of the first semester in the wood shop building a cornhole set.

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“It’s taking me a while because I’ve had to figure out some things. Once I have the templates for things ... I should be able to make a set a day, like two cornhole boards a day,” Meller said. “Not painting them, just putting them together.”

He’s already looking for ways to fit Spartan Manufacturing into his second semester schedule.

“I actually enjoy it. It’s one of my favorite classes of the day because a lot of my friends are in here, too,” he said.

Email hello@spartanmfg.org or visit the spartanmfg.org website for more information or to explore contracting with the student-run business for custom products. Student projects are also highlighted on the Spartan Manufacturing Facebook page or Instagram.

Spartan Manufacturing advisor and teacher Spike Gralewski, left, watches as senior Ed Hakanson makes a tree out of an old saw with his plasma cutter
Spartan Manufacturing advisor and teacher Spike Gralewski, left, watches as senior Ed Hakanson makes a tree out of an old saw with his plasma cutter at Superior High School on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Sparks fall to the ground as senior Ed Hakanson cuts into a saw with his plasma cutter
Sparks fall to the ground as senior Ed Hakanson cuts into a saw with his plasma cutter in an Industrial Tech room at Superior High School on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
111122.N.ST.Manufacturing cup.JPG
Superior High School technical education teacher Spike Gralewski holds up one of 500 laser engraved cups the Spartan Manufacturing team is making for Cenovus Energy in the high school wood shop on Tuesday, Nov. 8. The student-run business has received another 500 mug order from Enbridge Energy.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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