"The Tellin' Stories program brought together families from all over the world, and while we had different colors of skin, spoke different languages, and practiced different religions, the human experience of life was the same," observed Karyn Timmons. "Something beautiful happened when these families made a connection to their community and school that will further the growth of their children. It was a learning experience for all involved. Our physical and mental space will be forever changed."
The community quilt conveys stories of
Families of students who attend Lexington Park (Maryland) Elementary School are invited to have breakfast and take part in Tellin' Stories sessions during one weekday morning each month. The program was designed to allow parents and guardians to come together and share their life experiences in a safe and supportive environment. It revolves around a central, basic theme -- quilting.
"Quilting is the tool we used to open the door to communication," explained Timmons. "The simple task of decorating a felt square became a testimony to culture, race, religion, and enrichment, and to the women who supplied to us a glimpse into their lives. It represented their thoughts about family; it evoked conversation about others and created an understanding and awareness of cultures beyond our own. We learned so much about the women and their lives, their tolerance in the face of adversity, their human frailties, their strengths and their human spirit, their hopes and dreams for their children and, for some, their families who still resided in their mother country."
After breakfast, participants choose a story or message that they would like to depict on a felt square. These symbolic representations are eventually joined to form a quilt. By that time, the group itself has been sewn together by the shared experience.
"The biggest surprise to me has been the deep, rich connection that stems from a seemingly simple task," reported Timmons, who is a parent liaison. "A glue and scissors art project became the framework for the telling of stories -- heartfelt, sad, happy, joyful, and wishful stories that spanned the globe. I was surprised by the ease with which the families relayed the stories about their lives."
Tellin' Stories becomes a vehicle by which families
The school's Spanish-speaking population has historically been the hardest to connect with and include in workshops because of the language barrier. Timmons invited a bilingual parent to attend and serve as a translator and, indeed, a family from El Salvador did take part.
"The family could speak very little English, and I could speak very little Spanish, but with the help of the translator we would have long conversations about the woman's life growing up in El Salvador," Timmons recalled. "I encouraged her to write her evaluation of the program in Spanish and cried when her comments reflected her feelings of gratitude and finding a way to meet new people. She had found a place of acceptance where her depiction of her small house in the El Salvadorian countryside, dotted with flowers and proudly displaying her flag, spoke volumes about who she is."
A secondary goal of the program was to reach the preschool children who were in the homes and offer educational books and supplies to facilitate learning. Participants were encouraged to bring non-school aged children with them to the workshop.
When organizing an event like Tellin' Stories, Timmons advises, it is important to be flexible, aware, and fun. Keep tissues on hand because many personal stories elicit an emotional response.
"Stories have a way of resonating within us and stirring a thought, a response, a smile, a tear, but most of all stories bring us closer to each other because we all have a story to tell. The Tellin Stories program is more than a needle and thread; it is a community bonding experience," added Timmons. "In education we say know the learner. In the community, it is the same thing. In order to be inclusive, there must be a thought about who will be sharing this experience and what their needs and expectations are."
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