Altamont school board approves industrial arts program expansion

Altamont High School Art Teacher Toni Niebrugge, left, and ACHS Industrial Arts Teacher Logan Hill hold examples of products their students will be making and selling following a donation from Ryan Eckhardt and Thrivent Financial that was matched by the school district to create a new industrial arts curriculum.

Altamont High School Art Teacher Toni Niebrugge, left, and ACHS Industrial Arts Teacher Logan Hill hold examples of products their students will be making and selling following a donation from Ryan Eckhardt and Thrivent Financial that was matched by the school district to create a new industrial arts curriculum.

ALTAMONT — Altamont High School students will have a new educational opportunity available after action taken by the Altamont school board Monday.

The new industrial arts curriculum, set to be in place for 2021-22 school year, will ultimately intermix business, physics, industrial arts, art and community. It will be unique from manufacturing programs at other area districts, involving students in every aspect of production — from design to sales — all while working closely with local businesses.

ACHS Industrial Arts teacher Logan Hill came up with the idea following discussions with local businessman Ryan Eckhardt, a wealth adviser at Thrivent Financial.

“He asked me if I could have a dream shop, what would it be,” Hill said. “The first thing I thought of was what Effingham was doing.”

Hill studied under Ty Totten, who was the industrial arts instructor in Altamont before becoming industrial arts/manufacturing skills teacher at Effingham High School. Hill kept in touch with Totten after graduating from Altamont High School and said he was instrumental in helping to get his idea off the ground.

“I like business in general,” Hill said. “I figured if you could blend the CEO class with manufacturing, we could do something really cool here getting the community involved.”

And he did just that.

Hill got together a group of local businessmen, manufacturers, Altamont High School Principal Jerry Tkachuk, school board member Al Shumaker, Superintendent Steve Mayerhofer and Altamont High School art teacher Toni Niebrugge.

With the businesses, faculty, staff and manufacturers in place, Hill was able to get a good feel for establishing the educational training and equipment needed to prepare students for the workforce after graduation. He said the collaboration enabled him to come up with a working curriculum and equipment list for the school board to consider.

Indian Industries was the first name Hill proposed for the new program, but as the project evolved, it became ACHS Industries.

Hill’s goal is to get more than just the industrial arts students involved with the program. The equipment he plans to order on Monday will allow students to produce products that can be sold to the public. With the proceeds from the sales, Hill plans to purchase and update the equipment he has ordered.

“We will have the economics classes involved,” Hill said. “They will be able to analyze, for example, it takes us one week to make 20 cups and so it might be we could make more money doing some other project.”

“If the profits are different, they will be able to tell us that,” Hill said.

Hills said students would also be able to come up with advertising ideas for the products they produce.

“That is going to get a bunch of students involved who wouldn’t typically take an industrial arts class,” Hill said. “That just might get them interested in taking an industrial arts class.”

Art Teacher Toni Niebrugge is looking forward to the new curriculum. The computers that drive the new equipment are able to import designs created in Adobe Photoshop, a software she uses in her classroom.

Niebrugge believes the ability for the designs to be transferred into the system will open the door for more student opportunities.

“I would like to see more girls get involved with the program,” Niebrugge said. “We will get a template that shows how big of an area we can use to create a design.”

“It’s going to be a learning curve at first for the two of us to figure out how we incorporate the two classes.” Hill said.

“This should be exciting,” Niebrugge said.

In addition to CAD classes, several carpentry classes, introduction to drafting, production technology and foundations of technology already offered at the school, the new curriculum adds a new welding class as a prerequisite. The new Manufacturing I class will shadow students in the Manufacturing II class who will actually operate the equipment. Manufacturing I students will then advance to a Manufacturing II class, where they will get the opportunity to operate the equipment.

Hill said his first year goal is to get students creating fire pits, custom signs, engraved Altamont Indian coasters and Christmas décor. He projects first-year gross sales to be $4,500. He expects that amount to nearly double the next year to $8,000. For years 3 and 4, Hill wants to continue to create new partnerships within the local area and work toward training his students to be more employable while at the same time generating sales of $13,000 the third year and $18,000 on the fourth year.

By year five, Hill expects to see his first seniors completing the full manufacturing curriculum to graduate with a sales goal of $25,000.

The amount approved by the Altamont Board of Education on Monday for purchase of equipment was a match to money donated to the project by Eckhardt and Trivent Financial. Eckhardt also helped the new program apply and get a grant for the purchase of a welding simulator.

“We were very blessed with the donations that we have received,” Hill said. “We are going to have equipment many schools don’t have access to. It will definitely be high-tech.”

Hill hopes down the road students from other schools will come to Altamont for manufacturing training.

“What is going to separate us from the other schools is we are not just making products,” Hill said. “Our students will be working hand in hand with local businesses coming up with products to make and our students will be coming up with pricing, making sales pitches to the different businesses and doing a lot of work to make them successful down the road.”

“It was a long process getting to this point,” Hill said. “I would say since last February I’ve been spending 10-15 hours a week on this project.”

The new equipment is expected to arrive early next year.

Tkachuk is excited about the new curriculum and how the industrial arts program can intermix with several different programs from physics, art to economics.

“Logan has done a lot of work on this,” Tkachuk said. “And I think he has done an outstanding job.”

“We are talking about taking a lot of outside classes that we do here and bringing them into one idea,” Tkachuk said. “We don’t look at starting one program to meet the needs of one program. We are looking at starting a program here that is going to involve several programs so students can see what it takes.”

Shumaker is pleased with the board’s decision to move forward with the program.

“I am happy that all of the businessmen that we have contacted and dealt with in the community have been so helpful and so excited about this project,” Shumaker said. “We can’t say enough thanks to Ryan Eckhardt and Thrivent Financial for both the monetary support and standing behind us.”

“I think it is important to have the community behind the school,” Shumaker said. “And I get excited when I see the community wants to get involved in a project such as this.”

Charles Mills can be reached at or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.


Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.

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