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Stitching Together History: Elmwood High School Honours Black History Month with a Quilt-Making Project

March 3, 2023
Ms. Jenna Forslund and three students are showcasing the different patterns students have created for the quilt.

Grade 7 and 8 students at Elmwood High School celebrated Black History Month with a quilt-making project inspired by the Underground Railroad. The students learned about the secret network that helped enslaved people escape to freedom in Canada and one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman.

A Grade 8 student, Charley Uy, said, "The movement leaders were called conductors, and the enslaved people were called freight as part of their secret language. They used trains, railroad terminologies, and communicated using quilts to release enslaved people and send them to Canada."

Charley and her group are working on the North Star design, which Tubman and other conductors used as a navigational tool. The North Star symbolized hope and guidance on their journey to freedom.

Ruella Restar, another Grade 8 student, shared that enslaved people in southern states of the US would take refuge in the houses with quilts on the front of their doors. She found stitching together her North Star quilt to be an enjoyable process. "I used cloth pieces of my favourite colours to stitch it together," said Restar.

The project has allowed 44 students to explore their creative talents. As the students work together to complete their quilts, they build a sense of community and empathy that will stay with them long after the project ends.

Jenna Forslund, a Grade 7 and 8 Math and Science teacher, explained that quilts helped enslaved people convey hidden messages while escaping into Canada. They could not use the English language or spellings to communicate with each other, so these quilts became their freedom quilts. Forslund said, "Quilt making has many opportunities to discuss math concepts. We discussed patterns, rotations, angles, and translations in our classroom."

Sarian Kagbanda, an Elmwood student who was born in Canada but whose parents moved here from Sierra Leone, said, "I learned something new through this Black History lesson: how they did it and how precise it was." She also explained that the project brought students from different cultures together and learned about Black people's history. 

The students also learned that enslaved people used ten codes on the quilts, including North Star, Flying Geese, Wagon Wheels, Cross Roads, Tumbling Blocks, and Log Cabins. They used six of these codes in the two classroom quilts.

Once the quilt is ready, it will be displayed in one of the hallways to serve as a point of conversation for other students and staff members to learn from it. 

"We hope this beautiful quilt will encourage and motivate other Math teachers to weave social justice issues into the math curriculum," said Ms. Forslund.

The project is a powerful example of how education can connect students with important social justice issues and inspire them to make a difference in the world. 

As we continue to learn about Black history and the struggle for equality and justice, it's important to remember the bravery and resilience of those who came before us and to continue the fight for a more just and equitable future. 

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