A Kindergarten in Iowa
A New State for the Quilt
In October, I was in Iowa for the first time since childhood. We planned on visiting the small town of Grinnell, where I went to Kindergarten. It would have been pretty surreal to have been able to take my quilt and do a program in my very own old classroom... but we were scheduled to visit on the weekend. However I was able to visit another small town school in northeast Iowa a few days later.
Miss K's Kids
I communicated by email with Miss K, weeks before. She arranged for me to visit her classroom after the kids had lunch. From our brief exchanges, I could already tell she was the kind of teacher I admire. When I arrived that day, the kids were in the midst of some energetic, music and movement activity. She greeted me with the same positive enthusiasm she had with her kids!
Miss K. put name tags on the kids and we jumped into some songs and games around the quilt. It's amazing how helpful name tags can be. Kids respond more quickly when I use their names. But I quickly noticed I was needing a lot of help with pronunciation. Coming from Houston, I'm pretty good with Hispanic names and there were quite a few in this class. But I was also dealing with a name or two from Somalia and there were some accents I didn't recognize.
We did an activity with stiff, squares of fabric. There was nothing tricky or even all that creative about it. It just gave them each a turn and gave me a chance to observe all the different kinds of kids, with so many different approaches. One was very shy, but was encouraged by another child. Another was eager and spoke with such enthusiasm, but I could barely understand him. This had turned out to be very different bunch of kids from what I expected. I was in rural Iowa after all.
Miss K. called her group, the Super Kids. You could tell they loved it. She smiled to me, hinting that she had a pretty energetic group this year.
I showed the Super Kids my "new quilt" and we decided to add some new squares with words from them. I had to smile at the things they loved... balloons... army guys!
What Miss K. didn't share with me, was about all the changes this school has seen. 30 years ago, the students had parents who grew up on Iowa farms or towns. But when a kosher meatpacking business opened in 1986, the town changed. Hasidic Jews from New York arrived first.
Then immigrants to work in the plant arrived, from Russia and Ukraine, then later from Mexico and Guatemala and finally from Somalia. A lot of change for a town of less than 2,000.
Varied, Like the Quilt
The residents in town were as colorful and different as the squares on the new quilt I started almost 2 years ago. Since I began "volunteering on the road", I've gathered around the quilt with kids and adults from all over.
The new friends I've met in west Texas towns, New Mexico, California, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, Mexico and Chile have helped decorate squares to add to a new quilt. The squares bring the thoughts and drawings and flavors of o many, together. Who would have guessed I would have seen as much diversity in one tiny Iowa town as I've seen on my travels!.
What Did I Learn?
There's much more to the story of this town and the difficulties they've faced, dealing with so many cultures in such a small area. But seeing this beautiful bunch of kids with their teacher, who cares deeply... I'm left with a great deal of hope. We've heard it before. The future lies in our children.
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For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.