SPRINGFIELD TWP. Schrop Elementary teacher Catherine Berlo won a sewing machine in an auction for $2. She doesn't sew, but knowing her students love to mess around with things - like the cash register they have in class - she brought it to school.
Berlo, who teaches language arts and math in the alternative education program, said the machine worked for a bout a week and then "it died." After about $80 in repairs she got it back running and brought it back to the classroom. What happened next amazed the non-seamstress teacher. She watched the students begin sewing and enjoying it - while also learning math and language art skills.
Then one day, music teacher Erica Richardson walked by the classroom and saw the students sewing. She stopped and asked, "What are you guys doing?"
Berlo responded with, "We don't know."
Richardson, who had been working on a home project making sun dresses and sending them to children in Africa, chimed in and said she could help them. She quickly got students involved in working on the dresses, sewing the back seems and hems. That taught the students to sew in straight lines. Then the teachers wanted the students to be able to make complete projects by themselves. Their first project was making aprons for Mother's Day. Then the students were on a roll - sixth graders made purses - pillows were made and general experimentation was happening in the classroom.
"I have just been letting them fly," Berlo said. "It is math, it is reading. We learned the vocabulary."
Richardson continued to come in on her lunch hour to help the students.
Berlo began buying several yards of fabric for the students to measure and cut before making it in to labeled packages. When a student wanted material, they could look at the packages with the measurements on the label to choose the best item for their project. The measuring and cutting gave students practice they could use in their measuring while continuing to work on their cutting skills. Students have also been working on making squares, sewing them together to later be made into blankets for local hospitals.
Students chimed in on what they thought of the sewing:
Sixth-grader Kayla Jett said she thinks the sewing is fun and creative and that a lot of kids can do it. She has learned to make pillows, dresses and purses.
Fifth-grader Michael Beard has made pouches, pillows and worked on quilts. Richardson said Beard has been designing some things and figuring out what to sew together to make them.
Only three or four of the students had ever done any sewing before doing so in class. One being Abrianna Jewel, a fifth grader whose grandmother taught her how to do some hand sewing.
Carley Martin, a sixth grader, said sewing makes her feel happy and excited, while adding it is calming. When she was first asked to sew a seam, she felt scared, but now, feels confident when she does it.
Richardson said some of the things they are learning are" intangible, building confidence."
Amber Welsh, a sixth grader, said sewing has helped her with her school work. The rule is, students have to have their school work caught up before they can sew.
"The incentive of being able to sew, helps students to get caught up in their work," Berlo said.
Beard said sewing makes him want to do his work correctly so that he can have the time to sew.
Students think it is cool that they are making dresses to send to Africa. Emily Mull, a sixth grader, said it makes her feel good that a little girl in Africa is wearing a dress that she helped to make.
Welsh said when she sews a dress to send to Africa it makes her feel helpful.
The sewing has inspired kids. One student begged her mom to get her toy sewing machine out of the garage, but she found out it was not good enough as she is now used to the real thing now.
Berlo said that Beard told her when he has his own sewing machine, he wants to design jeans. "We might all be wearing Beard Jeans one day."
One of the best things about the sewing time is that students ask if they can teach other students how to do things.
"There has been a lot of peer tutoring going on," said Berlo.
One day Beard came into class, Berlo said, and told her that his dad's pocket came off of his jeans and he wanted to know if he could use a whip stitch to put it back on again.
Welsh brought in a blanket that had a hole in it and asked to be shown how to repair it.
The classmates have shown great strides in not only their sewing skills, but also their language arts and math skills.
The original sewing machine recently died again, but the project was saved when Dr. Barbara Volk brought in two new Singer sewing machines. Plans are to continue the program and anybody with leftover sewing items - buttons, zippers, snaps, thread - can help the cause by donating items by bringing them to Schrop Elementary School.