Junior High class opens up about struggles, hardships with quilt contest

Students’ quilts adorn part of a wall in downtown. Each quilt has a story, a trail of emotions they do not often share with the rest of the world. They share many hardships, but among them is a message: “I am trying to find a better fate for people like me.”

Sarah Morris, an eighth grade math teacher at T.A. Dugger Junior High School, came up with the idea for the quilt project when she read a book filled with stories from women during the Great Depression.

“The stories always ended with how they managed to get through the hard times,” Morris said. “I pitched the idea to my class.”

Each story ended with a quilt piece, so she replicated the idea with a contest in her class. The winners got to display their work at the Bicentennial Walkway in downtown Elizabethton.

Caden Rogers, one of the winners, said the reactions to his art and story were part of the reason he did the piece in the first place.

“When I showed it to my friends, some of them were happy I showed it to them,” Rogers said. “Others were not so happy.”

Rogers said he centralized his art around his experience with bullying since he was in kindergarten.

“It is hard to be bubbly and happy when you are picked on all the time,” he said. “It was interesting to see [people’s reactions]. Some people would rather see me bite the nail and be tough rather than be open about how I feel.”

Rogers said he wanted to show his fellow students it is OK to be different and to share what they have been through.

“Do not worry about what other people think,” Rogers said.

The class that organized the contest consisted of 37 students as part of the school’s recent “project-based learning enrichment” class program. Morris said the program helps students figure out how they want to learn, from their perspective.

Izzy McQueen, one of those students, said the quilt contest was a way to make their voices heard.

“Adults get recognized for what they do, but we cannot get our voice out,” McQueen said. “This helped a lot of kids want to help others.”

She said the benefits of doing the contest were for the city as a whole in addition to her fellow students, saying it helps the city look better.

Mostly, however, she said she hopes the project benefitted her school.

“It helped them release their emotions,” McQueen said. “I connected more with the students because of it.”

Morris said the quilts were a way to teach students how to express themselves, especially in a tough environment like middle school.

“Adults are scared to tell their stories, to be vulnerable,” she said. “It was nice to hear [my students’] stories, to be vulnerable.”

Morris said the project was vital to her students’ education.

“I am very sensitive to teaching,” Morris said. “I put my whole heart into it. This is the generation that will save the world.”

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