What do playing professional soccer and directing films have in common with running a student store or making T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats? 

It all comes down to business.

Garces Memorial High School seniors Ebubechukwu Ekpemogu and Grace McMurtrey want to accomplish completely different things in life — become a professional athlete and director, respectively — but the way to get there has similar roots for them. 

"I have to learn how to pitch stuff, how studios operate," explained McMurtrey. 

Additionally, in order to make it in the big leagues, you have to be traded, which involves dollar signs, Ekpemogu said. 

"Business can make or break your career," he added.

So what's going to give them a boost for their future careers? Garces' business class.

Led by teacher Blaine Geissel, students learn about topics such as insurance, payroll, personal finances and the stock market, for starters. But what really makes the class one that students cherish is the hands-on experience from running their own business.

A few doors away from their classroom is the Ramazon Student Store, one of the hottest spots on campus during lunch and break periods. Business class students manage the store when it's full with student customers, restock shelves and refrigerators and handle money. 

"Students want to come here," explained Geissel. "Students in the class pick out items they want to sell ... and it's 100 percent successful."

Next door to the student store is another aspect to the business: That T-Shirt Co. Inside, walls are lined with various shirts and designs that are all student generated.

On any given day students spend about half of their time learning in the classroom and the other half actually creating clothing. They come up with designs they would like to print on clothing, and with the help of Geissel, make those creations come alive using heat press machines. 

Once those items are finished, they sell them at the Ramazon Student Store to peers, parents and staff members.

"It exposes us to being a worker. We're working the cash register, talking to people, dealing with money," said senior Asher Allison. "I didn't really know how shirts were made, and this shows the process of making it," adding it's not as hard as he once thought.

Rather than just keep their business to Garces, students also work with local schools and businesses. Tuesday morning students were busy working on T-shirts for Our Lady of Perpetual Help School's Olympics Day — a day when students compete in different athletic events. Every student will receive a shirt, and depending on their grade level, they will represent a different country. McMurtrey and Ekpemogu were in charge of sorting different design prints, while Allison printed "Italy" and the country's flag on black T-shirts for fifth graders.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help School Principal Nicole Rebuck said the school has worked with Garces for a variety of items over the years — eighth grade shirts, sports jerseys and teacher and parent booster club shirts. Each time they've worked together, Rebuck said the orders are done quickly and are high quality.

"That business experience is so important. It’s practical application, and it's giving them life skills they’ll need," Rebuck said.

It may not always be smooth sailing every time, since these students are running a business for the first time, "but we talk about how to adapt, how to relay to customers that they'll make it better" if there's a mistake, explained Geissel. "The stuff I teach is not taught in other classes."

Last year the business generated around $280,000, which went right back into making more clothing and supplying the store. But more than just earning a profit, Geissel said he hears from parents that their children are interested in learning more about their family businesses, and some alumni have even gone on to start their own. Others have found something that sparked a fire in them one way or another.

"I was never really into things like economics or politics before," Ekpemogu said, "...but this class has made it less dreadful to learn about dollar signs."

That T-Shirt Co. is open to work with all businesses. For more information, contact Geissel at 661-327-2578 and jgeissel@garces.org.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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