Anti-violence quilt project underway at Mifflin Elementary

Students at Thomas Mifflin Elementary School in East Falls are promoting peace through patterns this week.

After nearly two months of lessons on anti-bullying and violence prevention, the young students have started designing an anti-violence quilt to be showcased at the school’s entrance in May.

On Tuesday afternoon, the students brainstormed ideas for the project as they examined a completed quilt from another school. Many of their ideas involved positive ways to respond to anger and violence. The school’s art teacher, Vanessa Marshall, says the project raises awareness about ongoing violence throughout the city.

“We want to arm our students to handle anything,” said Marshall, “some of them already have experiences with neighborhood violence.”

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A lesson in violence prevention 

Over the past six weeks, the students have worked with leaders from The Peaceful Posse, a Philadelphia peer-group mentoring program which teaches students how to build social and emotional skills. The program is part of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit group that promotes interpersonal violence prevention through educational initiatives, as well as global health issues.

The students have also been asked to express themselves in journal writing exercises. Marshall says she poses questions that movitate their thinking towards feelings and emotion.

“I asked them, ‘if anger was real, what color would it be?’,” said Marshall. During class, she asked her fourth graders to picture a monster and describe how it would look if it was angry.

“It would be burgundy-red,” said student Shanieyah Davis to the class, “because he is stressed from being mad.” Another student, Amira Sloan, said her monster would be colored black “because it doesn’t have any feelings because it’s so mad.”

When asked what peaceful images and words should be displayed on the quilt, students responded with ideas that involved writing, illustrating, reading, listening to jazz music, playing the piano and dancing.

“They’ve learned that to stop being angry they have to do something,” said Marshall, “they have to take a deep breath and walk away.”

Community support and participation 

Many members of the East Falls community played a key role in getting this project off the ground.

Tom Sauerman, President of the East Falls Community Council, came across the school arts grant opportunity through Public Citizens for Children and Youth – an advocacy group for children – and brought it to the school’s attention. Out of 13 available grants, Sauerman says the school received the highest amount, at $4,500.

To enhance the project, the Friends of the Falls of Schuylkill Library invested $300 in books on the topic, including the history of quilting and quilting patterns.

“My goal is to put the children in touch with professionals and caring adults,” said Sauerman, “to experience art on a higher level than they normally would in a typical classroom.”

Volunteers have also been recruited by the EFCC to help students with creating quilt blocks. One volunteer, Caroline Davidson – a well-known retired music teacher – is included in that mix.

Philadelphia University gets involved 

Sauerman also organized a variety of opportunities for the students with the nearby Philadelphia University.

Wendelyn Anderson, technical associate at Philadelphia University, will be working with the students on the project. She says the kids will draw their own designs and apply them to the quilt through screen printing. To connect the students to the final product, she plans to have them sew pillows and banners with their imprinted designs to take home.

“We want to give these kids the experience of taking an idea and translating it into a visual image,” said Anderson.

Textile design students, some of whom are members of the Black Student Association, have volunteered to talk to the class about design and pathways to higher education. The young students will also get the chance to tour the textile design facilities at Philadelphia University to learn about majors such as fashion, media and engineering. Anderson says the tour is part of an effort to showcase career opportunities for creative students.

This week marked the start of the school’s 10-week design and creation phase. The quilt will be unveiled in a ceremony on May 9 at Thomas Mifflin Elementary School.

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