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Maine students quilt together compassion and calculations

"I love giving them a project that they can own. And that takes their learning from a book and makes a product," said fifth-grade teacher Maire Trombley.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — "Measure twice, cut once" might be a carpentry term, but lately that reminder has come in handy in a fifth-grade class in Scarborough. For these students, one special project is stitching together caring, and calculations.

In Mrs. Trombley’s room at Wentworth School, math class moves to the rhythm of a sewing machine. 

"Rather than this theoretical ‘fractions are somewhere in my math book’ thing, let’s touch it, let’s draw it, let’s build it, let’s measure it," fifth-grade teacher Maire Trombley said.

Maire Trombley loves to quilt, so when a friend told her about the Homeless Remembrance Blanket Project ... she was intrigued.

"I was gonna make one by myself! And then I was like, why not do it at school? It was very last minute. It was not …. pre-planned. But it became pretty awesome once we thought about it a little bit," she said.

The idea caught on fast and soon two other fifth grade classes joined the effort. That meant teaching 54 kids how to quilt.

Credit: Contributed: Maire Trombley

"And I was like, alright! I’ll bring my sewing machine to school!" she said with a laugh. 

And with that, she set about guiding these kids through the process of creating, designing, and stitching two quilts.

Trombley sees it this way: "Quilting is 100% math. And it’s all geometry, and spatial reasoning, and planning and symmetry and all those things. I had a ton of math lessons I knew I could get in there. And then when they were independently doing their math work they could come and sew."

They began by figuring out how big they wanted the quilt to be, doing all the calculations to determine the size of each square in the quilt.

Students created the designs, picked fabrics and colors, figured  out measurements, and angles, and carefully cut the pieces they’d stitch together.

The Homeless Remembrance Blanket Project was started last year by Pat LaMarche.

If that name rings a bell, it’s because LaMarche twice ran for governor in Maine as a Green Independent candidate. She began this effort in Pennsylvania, and this year is taking it to a national level. While the kids have worked on their quilt squares, they’ve Zoomed with LaMarche who has talked with them about homelessness.

"And she said maybe instead of thinking that they look different or thinking ... that person smells funny, think maybe their feet hurt. Think maybe they don’t have a washing machine. Maybe they’re cold. Maybe they’re hungry. And so just by changing that frame of thinking, and bringing humanity back in to it? It’s going to help these kids think more about why. And how," Trombley said.

Every state is sending blankets and quilts to the project, and later this year, some will be displayed on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington to draw attention to homelessness.

Dylan Johnson is a fifth-grade student in Mrs. Trombley's class.

"There are lots of people who are homeless and they’re probably like very cold and they probably, like, want a blanket so they’re safer and more warm," she said. "You’re doing something that’s good for other people. It feels really good."   

"It feels really good because we’re not just making a quilt, we’re making ... it’s not as much about the quilt but more who it’s going to. It’s going to someone who needs. like, we kinda take some of these things for granted. But not everyone has a blanket to stay warm," said William Fagerlund .

The kids take turns at the machine, laying out their squares, stitching them together, ironing them flat. All the while, Mrs. Trombley brings in the math and makes sure the kids see how their calculations all come together.  

Mrs. Trombley can hardly contain her enthusiasm.

"I love this," she said. "I love being active with the kids. And I love giving them a project that they can own. And that takes their learning from a book and makes a product."

"It’s 100% all about the math, the social thinking, the argument and advocacy, the research. The awareness of others," she said. "Fifth grade is such a huge age when you are not just thinking about yourself anymore. You are suddenly realizing what other people think. And what other people are noticing. And that might be just peer to peer. But they’re ready to now say, 'Oh wait. If I do this, it has this effect.'"

Mrs. Trombley is quick to credit her fellow teachers for jumping on board this effort to help. She  expects the quilts will be done in May.  Pat LaMarche has promised the students that their finished quilts will be part of the display at the Capital.  We will follow their story as the quilts head to Washington in December, and then return to Maine to be given away. If you would like to learn more about the Homeless Remembrance Blanket Project, click here

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