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Sewing for Citizen Schools v.2

May 17, 2012

I am so pumped after yesterday afternoon, when I spent a couple hours at a middle school teaching a sewing lesson. The classrooms there are filled with kids who are from low-income communities. (Oddly, this particular school is physically in a very wealthy neighborhood, and my jaw dropped when I opened up the Zillow app to see what the gorgeous, San Francisco-style hillside row houses go for.) Surrounding real estate aside, the actual students, mostly from other parts of Boston, don’t have a lot of means. That’s where a program like Citizen Schools comes in. It expands the learning day for kids, providing academic support, apprenticeships with community members, and weekly activities. The kids also have a positive learning environment while their parents are still at work.

My first encounter with Citizen Schools was a couple months ago, when Sarah invited me along to run a lesson. Since, I found a participating middle school closer to me, and with a bit of back & forth emailing, set up a little sewing workshop. I really wish I could post some photos, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. The students had a blast, as did I. After introductions, I asked if any of them sewed, who taught them, what they made. Then had them guess what, if anything, I was wearing that was homemade. Skirt? Yes. Shirt? Yes. Jaaacket?? Yes! They went a little nutty :) I’m hookin’ ’em young, folks. Impressionable young minds, sewing is cool.

Then I told them a brief history of my favorite quickie project, the yo-yo. We defined a running stitch, practiced on scrap, and got down to business. It was fascinating to see how quickly some of them, especially one boy, picked it up intuitively, while a few struggled a little. Note, those few weren’t paying attention during the instructions. And there was one girl who took it upon herself to gather half her circle into pleats, then run the needle through all at once. That’s what I like to see! From there, we added buttons, then glued the yo-yos onto hair clips, headbands or added a pin to the back. I manned the hot glue gun, so the kids wouldn’t get hurt. Of course, I have a huge burn blister from the very first yo-yo. Better me than the students!

They asked a ton of questions, and even though they were excited and loud, they did a pretty great job of staying focused. Especially after an MCAS day. They asked if I was coming back, which was too cool, and I sent them away with instructions and fabric circles for making more yo-yos on their own. One girl was wearing a headband adorned with fabric rosettes, a perfect example of “I can make that”, illustrating how to apply what they learned. Another girl mentioned a cloth pouch she owned, basically a huge yo-yo where the gathering thread isn’t cut. She totally got it.

Teaching is tough. Teaching at-risk kids, at a hormonal age, who might not be getting proper nutrition (nutrition, not food) to fuel their minds & moods, let alone proper anything else, is really tough. I know this was just one afternoon. Not an entire day, five days a week. And I feel a little bad, like I should dampen my excitement a bit, because I know it’s not easy. I almost wish I hadn’t read that post this morning, as my post is in no way meant to counteract Sunni’s. All it’s meant to do is share what I’ve been up to this week. Which was, in effect, breeze into a classroom, connect with kids for a few hours, get them excited about sewing and crafting. Totally different experience than day in, day out.

I hope y’all are having a great week :D

26 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2012 12:04 pm

    Oh what a wonderful thing to do!! The homeless mission in my neighborhood needed a sewing instructor and were very excited when I volunteered but then they never followed through…. I was quite disappointed. I think it’s wonderful that you are sharing your skills. Being a creative kid without a lot of money growing up I made everything – what an awesome tradition to pass along!

    • May 21, 2012 8:59 am

      That’s so awesome – go put some fire under their asses at the shelter! I toyed with that idea, too, but it would require getting machines, etc. So many on craigslist, though!

  2. May 17, 2012 12:04 pm

    This is so cool, Lavender. I really admire that you use your time this way. I thought about volunteering to do something similar at the kids school. But with the changing of principals and other bureaucracy, it didn’t work out. Some (most??) of the children that go to school with mine are living the kind of life you describe. It makes for a terrible environment. I went on a trip with my son this week that makes me very glad that mine will be going to a new school in the fall.

    • May 21, 2012 9:08 am

      That would be so rad if you were able to teach some lessons at your kids’ school! You have such a hip wardrobe, they’d be all over it! Maybe at the new school it will work out. There is just so much bureaucracy involved in education, which is why I couldn’t deal with being a traditional classroom teacher. What a nightmare, when you just want to teach.

  3. misscrayolacreepy permalink
    May 17, 2012 12:43 pm

    It is so cool that you are giving back to the community in that way!!! You are awesome!

  4. May 17, 2012 12:49 pm

    What a great initiative. That is a great age to be learning skills like sewing. Even if they put it aside, they may return to it. How many of us speak to pre-teen and teen years as when we initially started to sew?

    • May 21, 2012 9:09 am

      Exactly! And now that there’s more interest from design-related tv, maybe they won’t put it aside for as long as someone like, er, me!

  5. sewinsteady permalink
    May 17, 2012 12:58 pm

    Wow, that’s really awesome! I love to hear that some of the students really connected with the sewing. I wish someone young and cool (like you, not my cranky, chainsmoking, abbrasive, 7th grade home ec. teacher) had been there to help get me truly hooked on sewing and the process at that age…I can only imagine where I’d be now if I’d been that fortunate. :)

    • May 21, 2012 9:11 am

      Haha! That sounds like a classic home ec teacher! Mine was cranky, high-pitched voice that got squeakier the angrier she got, and hated sewing. I made a whale pillow with three fish appliqued on the side. Lame.

  6. May 17, 2012 1:09 pm

    you know what? it’s okay to counteract sunni’s post (which i struggled a bit with myself) because there are two sides to the coin… and it’s not for everyone. that’s not to say it’s a character flaw if it’s not your bag. let’s face it, it can be a Tough. Bag.

    anyway, i lit up all smiles as i read your post. and got chills. and wondered if citizens school might exist in my area. going to do some detective work now…

    • May 17, 2012 1:12 pm

      just threw my name in the hat :)

      • May 21, 2012 9:14 am

        Yay!!! They’re gonna love you! Are you going to do an apprenticeship? That’s what I’m aiming for next school year.

        And you’re right. It’s tough and not for everyone. And that doesn’t make one a bad person at all. I know I couldn’t do it full time in a traditional classroom environment. But something like this, and I feel really fulfilled.

  7. May 17, 2012 6:53 pm

    Oh that is awesome! Good for you. I’d love to something like this here, looking around for projects now, thanks for the inspiration!

    • May 21, 2012 9:17 am

      Yes!! There’s gotta be something like this world wide, no? CS is in a few states, and when I was trying to find them on twitter, another similar program in England came up.

  8. May 18, 2012 8:46 am

    Yay! Good for you! Some of my most memorable and awarding memories are from when I’ve taught (4 year olds through college) And you know what – the best ones were always the kids from the “rough” neighborhoods. I did something similar to this, but teaching art, for a whole summer in Philly. It was great. And it was really frigging hard.

    Also, this is pumping me up because I’m supposed to talk to a group of middle school students in my gallery today and I’m getting a bit nervous!!

    • May 21, 2012 9:22 am

      That’s so awesome! What was the summer art program? I was talking with my mom about it over the weekend, and realized that the best jobs I’ve had involved teaching. Tell us how the gallery talk went! I’m sure they loved you :) (I was totally nervous the day before, as it had been a while. Once I got there, all was good!)

  9. May 18, 2012 11:37 am

    Wow Lavender! That really is a great age to get them interested. I messed around with my mom’s sewing machine for years before I got serious about it.

    Sewing aside, that seems like a great program. Kudos to you for participating.

    • May 21, 2012 9:23 am

      Same here! I just didn’t want to learn from my mom, and I think that’s pretty common. Sometimes it takes a stranger to hook you, or to learn from… no mother/daughter head-knocking ;)

  10. May 19, 2012 11:46 am

    I’m so glad that you’re sticking with this! The yo-yos were a great idea and it sounds like you had a much more coherent plan than I did :D

    • May 21, 2012 9:26 am

      Examples, handouts, over-prepared, all from a little nerves of stepping in front of 12 year old kids! Then we ended up winging it a bit, and I totally knew from the class with you what their sewing skill level might be :)

  11. May 19, 2012 1:22 pm

    Good for you! Teaching *is* hard, and I am happy to be retired after 30 years of junior high school.

    • May 21, 2012 9:27 am

      So you taught this age group? It’s a tough age to teach, and you deserve every second of your retirement! Good on you!

  12. May 21, 2012 10:03 am

    So cool! I’m really glad that your teaching experience went so well! I love the idea of Citizen Schools!

  13. May 22, 2012 6:00 am

    Oh wow, how cool! I’m glad both you and the students had such fun doing that, and maybe a few of them have caught the sewing bug now!
    I’m part of a student group that does projects about healthy eating and nutrition in primary schools, which is fun and very rewarding. I know that I’m glad I don’t have to teach those kids their sums and how to spell, though. And kudos to everyone who does!

    • May 22, 2012 11:01 am

      That is so important, Alessa! Good on you for teaching them how to eat healthy foods and take care of their bodies from the start! It’s much easier to teach something you love, right? :)

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