EXETER — Antoinette Jones’ classroom in the Wyoming Area Secondary Center doesn’t have desks in rows. Students don’t fill out work sheets or take multiple choice tests.
Instead, there is constant movement from place to place. Students compare notes instead of passing them. There is noise, mostly a constant hum from sewing machines.
Students handle razor-sharp blades and needles.
Ideas fly around the room. So does fabric. And so does Mrs. Jones, as she answers questions and helps her students handle their projects.
“I can’t think of a better place to be,” Jones said. “I love my job.”
Seven years ago, on Day One of that job as a teacher in the Consumer Family Science Department at Wyoming Area High School, Jones got students involved in sewing – and quilting. Things took off from there.
Seventh-graders learn how to handle needle and thread, then move on to sewing buttons and finally creating small stuffed animals. In higher classes, there are sewing projects. But the seniors get to work on quilts.
“This is an art form that could disappear if we don’t pass on the skills,” Jones said. “It’s something wonderful to learn. And, these students have found it to be something they love to do.”
Two years after she started at Wyoming Area, Jones offered a Quilting Club that met after school one day a week.
“It started as a casual thing,” she said. “And a lot of students just dropped in to hang out. But that wasn’t the point of it all. So, I laid down a few rules – mostly if you’re in the room, you had to have something to do involving sewing.”
And in the past few years, the students complained about having to wait until they were seniors to get involved in quilting, so, juniors got permission to join the class this year. And next year, juniors will get the basics in Quilting 1 and seniors will have classes in more advanced sewing techniques in Quilting 2.
Jones also launched a quilt show at the end of the 2013 school year, so the students could proudly display their finished products. The first show had about 20 quilts in the gym. Like the program, the show has gotten bigger. This year, there will be 80-plus quilts for display, so the show has been expanded to two nights.
“This year’s show is a first for all of us,” Jones said. “And we’re really going to make it something big.”
There will be a quilting circle, where students who are still working on their quilts can demonstrate the hand-quilting that puts things together. There will be a bake sale. And there will be a merchandise sale.
Jones waved her hand toward one corner of the room, where there are stacks of bags and boxes that hold a laundry list of items sewn by her students, ranging from kids’ blankets and Christmas stockings to hair scrunchies and dog collars and everything in between. All of the merchandise will go on sale at the show, and along with proceeds from raffles – including a queen-sized blue and white quilt in a log cabin pattern, matching wall hanging and pillow cases – will be split between the Blue Chip Animal Shelter in Dallas and the Ronald McDonald House in Scranton.
The students themselves love the colors and the work that are part of the process. And through it all, they toss around words like “relaxing,” “get away from stress” and “fun.”
“It gives me something to do,” said senior Mallory McMaster, of Exeter, working on a courthouse steps pattern. “I ground myself with this. And it gives me something to look forward to.”
Classmate Curtis Hager, of West Pittston, said he started out last year making small items for sale at the quilt show and has moved up to making a full quilt, calling the process “stress-relieving.”
Students found ways to be creative, like senior Kylea Kasisky, of West Wyoming, who took the basic patterns and modified them to make her own design. Amber Rought, a senior from Falls, took off on her own and, with the help of her mom, came up with a Native American-inspired pattern she calls “The Warrior Quilt.”
The juniors in the room are delighted at having a chance to get in on the fun.
“I didn’t want to wait for senior year,” said Mackenzie Davidson. “And now I’m excited for next year. I want to see what else I can do.”
And there are those, like seniors Alyson Grindall, of Falls, making her second quilt, and Cassie Sypulski, of Harding, who opted for a completely different pattern for her second quilt as well as creating items for the merchandise sale. Junior Megan Lee, of West Pittston, is on her fourth quilt.
“And I have three more sets of fabric waiting for me to start on,” she said. “I’m up for the challenge.”
Senior Alexia Smith, of West Wyoming, who is curently working on her second quilt, summed up the process for the group.
“It’s a calming thing to do,” she said. “You get to really focus on something. And when I’m focused, I feel like I can do the impossible.”
The Wyoming Area Quilt Show will feature seniors’ quilts on June 6 and juniors’ quilts on June 7. Both displays are open from 4 to 7 p.m. in the school’s gym.
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