Bring the Quilt and They Will Come?
My husband Don was taking a 5-day course in a remote area of southwest Texas, so I tagged along. Since I'm beginning to realize I can use my quilt to connect with people in other places, I dragged it with me. Surely I could find a nursing home, shelter or a day care center where I could volunteer my time. But I found none within 80 miles of Terlingua. However, out in the middle of nowhere...in Terlingua, there is a quilt shop!
In the Shop
In the shop, I met the owner, Marguerite who thought the local Terlingua School would be interested in my program. She gave me some history about this amazing public school and the community that pulls together to support it. I was most impressed by their scholarship program. Each year students design a quilt and with some adult help and quilting work by Marguaerite, the finished quilt is raffled off at the annual Chili Cook-off (which attracts visitors from all over the States). Terlingua residents also support the scholarship fund with fish fries and projects to make sure every graduate leaves school with some kind of scholarship. This year they will have 7 graduating!
One School, K through 12!
I found the Terlingua School (and playground) 2 miles away at the end of Roadrunner Circle. I entered the office, and was able to spend some time chatting with the principal, Bobbie Jones. She was curious to hear about my quilt program and I was eager to hear more about the school's quilt project. It became clear that this school and community is used to coming together to make things happen. (kind of like the image of an old fashioned quilting bee!) But I was even more moved to learn why this community supports its school so proudly. 10 years ago, there was no high school in Terlinqua. If students wanted to continue school after 8th grade, their nearest high school was 80 miles away. For many children, education stopped at age 13 or 14. Residents in Terlingua do not take education for granted!
Kindergarten and First
I arrived Tuesday morning as the kids were finishing breakfast. The combined K & first grade class gathered with me on the quilt. First we just shared a little about quilts. We brainstormed uses and talked about patterns and colors. We talked about the history of quilts and imagined groups coming together to work on one quilt. We wondered about all the old material scraps people might have used, like pieces of old baby blankets or grandma's apron. I didn't have to tell these kids about the benefits of recycling and reusing...they were well aware.
Then we got down to the fun stuff
I got out a small quilted bag and the kids tried to guess what was inside. Some guessed blocks, one guessed bones.
No one guessed "little wooden man who can dance on a flat paddle". But they thought he was pretty fun!
Jump! Dance! Collapse!
The kids gave him a name and helped me sing a silly song about the guy jumping on the board...dancing on the board...and collapsing on the board.
Then they joined in.
They jumped when he jumped. Danced when he danced. And most fun of all, collapsed into a heap on the quilt when he did. Luckily, no bonking heads.
The hour flew by and our time was up. As I packed up, I had the kids do their own problem solving. How can a group of kids fold one quilt? You would be surprised what that task tells you about a group. These kids passed the test with a sweet dose of cooperation and not an ounce of bickering!
The Non-Serious Side
I had the kids gather for a photo. After a regular smiling pose, they asked their teacher if they could do a silly pose, too. The picture tells what her answer was. I'd say she passed the good teacher test!
On to Second Grade
Imagine a class with only 7 students! When I saw this photo later I had to grin because it was just as I had remembered. This group felt like a family!
I only spent 1 hour with these kids, but that was time enough to get a good idea about personalities and strengths. I shared some of the same activities. They loved the goofiness of the dancing man. They named him Anthony because the syllables fit in the song. They read silly quilt quiz questions and it was fun to see how they helped each other out reading...or were they just deciphering my hand writing? And they helped me work on a story about an amazing large quilt that is visited by people from all over the world. They added descriptive ideas, like the quilt smelling of cookies and baby oil. And they also added thoughts like real kids do. "Let's say they use some ropes and make a boxing ring in the middle of the quilt!" I had to chuckle and hint that we didn't really want violence in our story.
Their teacher took a more clever approach and gently guided by suggesting quilted boxing gloves. That moved the story on a safer route. Yes, the quilt in the story had a boxing ring in the middle, but when the colorful quilted gloves
gave a punch, they produced a giggle instead of an ouch! As time was ticking, we scrambled to come up with an ending and a solution for how these people from all over the world would communicate. We decided they would notice a small baby on the quilt. The kids said the baby could only say "goo goo gaa gaa", but that seemed to be enough. We sort of acted out the end of the story and all gathered on the quilt, like the people we had imagined. We held hands and sang a spontaneous song in the "goo goo language" to the tune of "ABC Song". Ms. Taylor smiled at the sweet silliness and commented, "You looked like the Whos down in Whoville!"
Adding to the Quilt
Time flew by in both groups, so I ended up leaving quilt squares with the teachers. Before leaving town, I collected the squares that each child decorated with drawings and words. These squares will soon be joining other squares from different groups I've gathered with. I love knowing I will at some point have a new quilt, connecting all the children and adults who have gathered around my old quilt.
What I learned: Trust and Time! It's refreshing to find a public school that doesn't need to surround itself in rules and regulations...although I understand why most do. How lucky for the kids of Terlingua School that their principal is allowed to trust her instincts and decide whether to let a stranger like me volunteer some time. And how lucky for the kids, that they have teachers who are willing to share some of their teaching time to do something a little different. What a wonderful learning atmosphere, where kids are surrounded by trust and time. I got a little of that gift, too!
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.