Authored by Marissa Heim
While education systems unjustly underserve students of color, tenacious and creative teachers and librarians are working hard to strengthen their school communities. At Brooklyn Center Secondary, one example is a larger-than-life, colorfully connected friendship quilt.
In January 2020, shortly after returning from Winter Break, the sixth grade teaching team at Brooklyn Center Secondary School decided to assign a community building project in the form of a friendship quilt. Librarian Jane Gottfried, who also had a sixth-grade advisory class of her own, explained that the teachers were really invested in building a strong community across the classrooms. Gottfried (2020) said that most of the team were new teachers, who brought excitement and “new ideas” to their roles (in conversation with the author, September 29, 2020). They decided to create a grade-wide friendship quilt, comprised of interconnected panels depicting the students’ names and things that they are grateful for, or things that make them happy.
Crafts have a long history as community building tools. Friendship quilts, specifically, came about in the mid-19th century, and “served as a way of commemorating a shared experience” (International Quilt Museum 2013, para. 2). While crafting can be an “identity building” “individuating experience,” it is the ways in which individually made portions come together that build community (Lichti-Harriman, n.d., para. 10). In the case of the sixth grade friendship quilt, while the panels are glowing with individuality, it is their connectedness via colorful yarn that represents many individuals coming together to create one cohesive community.
Some may wonder, what is the point of building community? Why take the time to do this community building project instead of working on academic skills such as reading and math?
Brooklyn Center, a north suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is one of the most diverse cities in the state, with 57.5% of residents being persons of color (Everybody In 2016, 4). Brooklyn Center Community Schools have a large population of Black students, and the state of Minnesota, unfortunately, has one of the largest achievement gaps (between white students and students of color) in the country (Shockman 2019). With only half of all students meeting third grade reading expectations and graduation rates of Black students declining, Brooklyn Center Community Schools need strategies to boost achievement.
A strong school community, in which students feel supported and connected, is vital for student achievement. Alicia Betz writes that “when students are excited about events at school and feel like they belong, they will be more likely to come to school and contribute to the culture on a daily basis” (Betz 2020, para. 11). Indeed, a mantra commonly used by educators, “Maslow before Bloom,” (referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Bloom’s Taxonomy) emphasizes that a child’s basic needs must be met before they can meaningfully engage in critical and academic thinking (Berger 2020, para. 1). The three middle levels on Maslow’s pyramid represent Safety, Belonging, and Esteem (McIntyre 2007). Community building activities work to meet those needs by crafting a metaphorical safety net and support network, building connectedness and feelings of belonging, and boosting self-esteem as students take pride in the creation of something bigger than themselves.
The Friendship Quilt at Brooklyn Center Secondary School beautifully represents the individual voices and values of young students, as well as the strong community they are building around them.
Berger, Tom. 2020. “How to Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long.” Edutopia. September 23, 2020. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-maslow-bloom-all-day-long.
Betz, Alicia. 2020. “How to Create a Community Culture in Your School.” Education Corner. https://www.educationcorner.com/how-create-community-culture-school.html.
Brooklyn Center Community Schools Sixth Graders. 2020. “Friendship Quilt.” Brooklyn Center Community Schools Library. January-February, 2020. Mixed Media.
Everybody In. 2016. “City of Brooklyn Center Socioeconomic Opportunity Profile.” City of Brooklyn Center. July 2016. https://www.cityofbrooklyncenter.org/DocumentCenter/View/5666.
International Quilt Museum. 2013. “Friendship Quilts.” World Quilts: The American Story. https://worldquilts.quiltstudy.org/americanstory/engagement/friendship.
Lichti-Harriman, Kathryn. n.d. “Craft, Society, and Value.” Craft Communities. Accessed September 30, 2020. http://www.craftcommunities.com/craft-society-and-value.html.
McIntyre, Shannon. 2007. “Maslow’s Theory Revisited.” Greater Good Magazine, February 16, 2007. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/maslows_theory_revisited.
Shockman, Elizabeth. 2019. “Report Ranks Minnesota among Worst Achievement-Gap States.” MPR News, October 14, 2019. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/10/14/mn-among-worst-achievementgap-states.
St. John’s University. 2015. “Our Mission.” St. John’s University. Last modified October 2020. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/history-and-facts/our-mission.