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Inside Atmosphere Academy: The School in Our New TV Commercial

The subject of our most recent TV commercial actually found us through a TV commercial. 

Atmosphere Academy celebrate their custom t-shirts

Program Leader Benjamin Pah celebrating with students.

Atmosphere Academy, a public charter middle school in the Bronx, NY, focusing on skills like college and career prep, character development, and building an educational foundation in STEM and the humanities rewards and recognizes their students with custom shirts from Custom Ink. It’s an educational trend we’ve been tracking, and we’re pretty excited about the possibilities.

To learn more about their program, we asked Atmosphere Academy’s founder and principal, Colin Greene, and their vice principal, Benjamin Pah, to tell us about how their school uses custom shirts and other custom gear to celebrate and drive student achievement.

Custom Ink: How did the program get started?
Colin Greene and Benjamin Pah: In 2017, Atmosphere leaders visited another charter school where students were wearing “Word Millionaire” shirts for reading 1,000,000 words. Colin Greene, Atmosphere’s founder, and the Leadership Team were inspired by this experience to start Atmosphere’s own robust apparel rewards system. To start, Mr. Greene designed a tiered STARS system for students on honor roll that both inspired them and allowed them to aspire to even more success. In the years since, this system has been built out in more depth and detail based on the positive feedback it received. Moreover, new systems were developed by Mr. Pah, Mr. Roman, and Mr. Greene to reward students for their hard work and accomplishments on various standardized tests and experiential learning programs.

Students in the hallway in their custom shirtsCI: How does it work?
CG and BP: Students earn STARS apparel based on honor roll status in a given quarter. Scholars also receive Warriors gear based on achievement or growth on interim assessments or state tests. Finally, students can also earn shirts and hoodies related to enrichment programs they participate in, including the Equestrian Program and the Sailing Program.

CI: What do you give shirts for?
CG and BP: The criteria for STARS rewards apparel is academic honors and core values honors. The criteria for Warrior rewards apparel is improvement or level attained on test scores. The criteria for enrichment program rewards apparel is full participation and engagement in the program.

CI: What levels are there?
CG and BP: SuperSTARS = Straight A’s in all 10 classes
3 STARS = All A’s in core classes and only 0 to 3 demerits
2 STARS = A’s and B’s in core classes and only 0 to 3 demerits
1 STARS = All B’s in all classes and only 3 to 10 demerits

Warrior Camo/Tie-Dye Hoodie = Level 4 achievement or+30 points growth on State Test
Warrior Camo/Tie-Dye Shirt = Level 3 achievement or +10 points growth on State Test

CI: How do you earn a shirt?
CG and BP: Students earn apparel by meeting the data requirements for each category within an academic quarter.

CI: How are the shirts awarded?
CG and BP: Shirts are presented to students during our Quarterly Award Ceremonies in front of the student body and families.

A student receives a custom t-shirt from his administrator

Benjamin Pah presents a scholar shirt to a student.

CI: How are the designs created?
CG and BP: STARS and Warrior designs are created by school administrators with student input. Sometimes Atmosphere holds contests that invite students and teachers to design special apparel for special events, fundraising, or school spirit.

CI: How do you order them?
CG and BP: We order them through our sales representative via phone and email.

CI: Why did you choose t-shirts?
CG and BP: T-shirts and hoodies are a practical gift that allows students to very visibly display their achievements and break away from the traditional school uniform while step representing the school and wearing school-themed gear that serves as a “new” merit-based uniform that is more comfortable and stylish for students.

CI: What kind of impact have you seen?
CG and BP: The apparel has had a tremendous impact by increasing student effort, raising test scores, and improving student behavior.

CI: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the kids, parents, and other teachers?
CG and BP: Students love the apparel and strive to earn them. Parents and teachers appreciate the increased effort as a result.

CI: Can teachers earn shirts, too?
CG and BP: No. However, teachers who work with students in the Achievement program are given shirts to promote the apparel.

CI: How did you find Custom Ink?
CG and BP: We discovered Custom Ink through a TV commercial and from past experiences working with the company.

CI: How has Custom Ink helped to support the program?
CG and BP: Custom Ink’s customer service has been instrumental in facilitating orders, selecting products, and designing apparel.

CI: What do you like about working with Custom Ink?
CG and BP: Custom Ink’s Design Lab and new products allow us to produce fresh apparel that our students love.

CI: What advice would you give to a school who is thinking about doing something like this?
CG and BP: Make sure to get student feedback on what designs they want and make sure to clearly communicate the criteria for how students can earn the rewards.

CI: What are your plans for the program in the future?
CG and BP: We wish to expand with more apparel designs and types as well as update new styles. We would like to offer a consulting service coaching other schools to implement this program with the proper curriculum, culture, and celebration.

Read more about how you can try a t-shirt program at your school by checking out our companion story Educator Trend Alert: T-shirt Rewards and Recognition or check out some of the pre-made templates in our Design Lab if you’re ready to get started.

Miellyn is the Copy Manager at Custom Ink. Her work has spanned marketing for television networks like TLC and Travel, educational content for Smithsonian and National Geographic, marketing and story for indie video games, essays for publishers including Random House, The Telegraph, and Smart Pop Books, and stories for press outlets like VICE and VH1.

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