Attention to detail: Wrenshall students design, create new building signage

Seniors in Wrenshall's industrial design class have been working at creating over 200 wooden signs outside each room in the district.

Students make new signs for Wrenshall school.
Wrenshall senior Joel Lembke installs a sign in the school as classmates Austin Larva, left, and Joey Mills watch on Thursday, April 21, 2022. The three are among a group of students making wood signs to replace old plastic signs in the school.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

WRENSHALL — Students putting up signs within school buildings might normally be a cause for concern, but for a group of Wrenshall seniors in the district's industrial arts class, the signs have been a hit.

Students make new signs for Wrenshall school.
Wrenshall shop teacher Chris Gustafson.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Seniors Madigan O'Connor, Austin Larva, Joey Mills, Joel Lembke and Emalee Nelson designed and created new wooden signs for rooms throughout the district, from classrooms to restrooms, the gym and more.

Chris Gustafson, Wrenshall's shop teacher, said it has been a "super cool" project for the students and they have been a part of every step of the process.

"They had to go around and document all the different rooms, and then they had to come up with designs for all the stuff," he said.

They started by creating a template with a Wrenshall logo and then spoke with each teacher to see what name they wanted on the sign outside their classroom.


Once that was complete, the students used a laser engraver, which Gustafson said the district purchased with money from a Carlton County grant. Ten minutes later, a sign would be complete.

The second public hearing on the topic is scheduled for March 9, and is being held after residents provided comments and concerns during the first hearing on Jan. 26.

Lembke said the wood they are using is similar to the wood used to make cutting boards in that it is tightly packed together.

Once a sign is ready, it gets coated in varnish before installation.

The signs also need to have braille lettering for accessibility, which O'Connor and Nelson have taken the lead on.

Students make new signs for Wrenshall school.
Wrenshall senior Madigan O’Connor is one of the students making new signs for the school. She helps create labels with Braille symbols.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Using the Braille lettering machine was easy to learn, O'Connor said, and other than putting the room number, she has also written out descriptions such as "District Office" or "Principal's Office" in Braille.

When working with teachers on what they wanted their signs to say, the students learned that some had specific requests, Lembke said.

"Our band director, who is also in the weight room every day after school ... I asked him if he wanted (his little office) to be named something cooler and he said, 'Yeah, put it as Mr. Rahkola's Locker Room,'" he said.

Some other creative signs included 'Lunch Lady Land' and one for a teacher's coffee room.


The students also created a sign for the gym, which includes an etched basketball and volleyball, as well as directions for home and away fans.

The much larger sign for the gym took an hour for the machine to engrave due its size, Larva said, compared to the standard room signs they made.

Students make new signs for Wrenshall school.
A laser cutting/engraving machine burns letters into wood for a new Wrenshall school classroom sign on Thursday, April 21, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The signs have already been a hit with teachers, and Mills said educators told him they plan to take their signs with them if they ever leave the district.

Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro said the district was required to update signage throughout the school with all of the other projects it has going on.

"We were initially working with the contractors ... but it would be so much better if our students could do it," she said. "It is really a cool project, and we are proud of them."

Students make new signs for Wrenshall school.
Wrenshall seniors Joey Mills, left, and Austin Larva place two-sided tape on a new sign in the school’s shop on Thursday, April 21, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Belcastro added that she thinks they look better than plastic ones.

When the students in the class presented the idea to the school board in March, the board was impressed and excited about the project.

In terms of the old signs, they have been "recycled" by the district. Board member Nicole Krisak said during a April 6 board meeting that she noticed some of the old bathroom signs showing up in her home.


Larva said he hadn't taken any signs as a souvenir for himself, but he has had other students ask if they could take some.

"I might have to (take one)," he joked.

The students estimated they had to create over 200 signs and are hoping to get them all finished and put up by the end of the month.

Students make new signs for Wrenshall school.
A pile of old signs from around the Wrenshall School sit in the building’s woodshop.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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