SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Until a few months ago, we’d never visited a math class quite like the one Maire Trombley was teaching. Armed with her sewing machine, she took the lessons of geometry and had her students stitch together colors, angles, and designs. 207 went back to the classroom to see how the quilts came out.
Mrs. Trombley, an avid quilter, learned about the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project, an effort led by Pat Lamarche to collect blankets and display them on the West Lawn of our nation’s capital to raise awareness about homelessness. LaMarche is a familiar face to some Mainers; she ran twice for Maine governor as a Green Independent candidate.
Rather than just making a quilt on her own, Trombley decided to include her students. She wove together math lessons for three classes of 54 fifth graders, teaching angles and measurements and using all of the lines and symmetry of quilting.
The students learned how to design a quilt square using shapes and colors. Then, inch by inch, they stitched those squares together. As students finished squares, Trombley pieced them together to create two quilt tops.
Shreya Quinn was one of those fifth graders.
"It was like putting together a puzzle when we were putting them together," Shreya said. "It was really beautiful, and the colors all came together. It was super pretty. All the patterns also were really nice ... there were flowers on one and stars on the other."
This fifth-grade classroom was a busy place. After students finished their work, they used their extra time to focus on their quilt square.
"It wasn’t the only thing we did, but it was the background of everything we were doing," Trombley recalled.
This week, it was time to present the finished products to LaMarche herself.
"We wanted to make sure that we got to meet Pat in person and give her the quilts in person and connect all the dots together, right?" Trombley explained to the gathered students.
LaMarche's initiative is now nationwide, with blankets and quilts coming in from all 50 states. She never misses an opportunity to raise awareness for her mission.
As the students listened, she explained, "1.4 million homeless school children exist right now according to the Department of Education, which means there are about 10 million homeless people – people experiencing homelessness – in the United States. The people who are going through this are going to go through this with all of you. And I just really appreciate that so much. And I’m so grateful."
The quilts were a community effort. People donated fabric, thread, and money to buy materials.
"That’s what's so nice about a quilt is you are literally piecing together people’s support," Trombley said.
After about four and a half months, the quilts were ready. Each square was embroidered with a student’s name. Whoever ends up wrapping themselves in these quilts will know plenty of eager hands went into making them come to life.
"It makes me feel really good to know that our creativity and hard work are going to go to keep somebody warm and safe," fifth-grade student Clara Humble said as she reflected on the experience.
"Being able to do that at this age just makes me feel like anyone can make a difference," student Lola Nyanutse added.
As the year comes to a close, Trombley talked about what this project meant to the students.
"To have something positive that the kids could put their energy into really helped. I think, like, emotionally helped?" she said. "And I think it made us feel like we can’t fix everything, but we can do this. We can do one thing."
"Teaching needs to have a purpose. It can’t be because we said so … and it can’t be because it’s the next lesson … and it can’t be because it’s on the test," she continued. "It has to have a meaning to it for the kids to buy in and for us to feel passionate about it … so this brought all that. It was what I was supposed to teach, but in a different way and with purpose."
The Homeless Memorial Blanket Project is expected to include about 500 blankets, and the quilts from these Maine students will be part of the exhibition. After they are displayed, the quilts will return to Maine and be given to a family struggling with homelessness or a family being resettled into a new home. To support the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project, click here.