Grayson Anthony, a Johnson High School graduate, never expected to fill the shoes of his former graphic design teacher, Scott Porter.
“He always joked with me and told me that I could come back here and teach,” Anthony said. “Scott called me about six months into last year and said, ‘I’m thinking about throwing in the towel. You want to take it over?”
Anthony had been working as a graphic design teacher for less than a year at West Hall High School but felt like fate was calling him back to his old high school. He became head of Johnson High’s graphic design program at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.
“Porter has taught here for around 19 years and was a great teacher,” Anthony said. “I’m hoping to be half the guy he is.”
Just like Porter did before, Anthony helps his students train for the Phoenix Challenge, which is an annual competition for students studying flexography. Flexography is a printing process that uses a flexible relief plate to produce stickers and other types of labels.
In the Phoenix Challenge, which draws participation from the U.S. and Canada, students are tasked with setting up and operating a flexo printing press within an hour. To prepare his students for the competition, Anthony regularly trains them on the equipment.
“Doing something with flexo is huge,” Anthony said. “Everything you buy, whether it’s water bottles or bags of chips, it’s all done on a flexo press. People don’t always realize it.”
Anthony teaches six graphic design classes, from introductory to advanced courses.
By the end of the school year, Anthony’s students take home a certification in something like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, software used for graphic design.
Magdaleno Alva, a sophomore in Anthony’s class, said he enjoys the freedom his teacher offers.
“He gives us projects, but he lets us let out our creativity and use our own concepts,” he said. “I appreciate the independence that we have here.”
By the time most students leave Anthony’s class, they’re not only taking away graphic design skills but real world experience. He also teaches and grades his students on soft skills, including showing up on time to class and displaying integrity.
While some students may go off to study graphic design in college, others seek local jobs. Anthony said Zebra Technologies Corp., which trains many of its employees to use a flexo printing press, hires six to seven Johnson High graphic design students each year.
“Whether they stay in graphics, or whether they hate it, it’s cool to teach these kids and figure out how to get them a job out of high school,” Anthony said.
Among the 130 students Anthony teaches, he said there are 30-40 who make all of his efforts worth it.
Antyhony said he recently discovered that one of his students barely knew how to read. A couple of days ago, he sat down with the boy and helped him read through news articles, line by line.
“He was so in awe that I was willing to help him read,” Anthony said. “The reason I teach is because of kids like this.”