When Alden-Hebron Middle School special education teacher Melissa Leach was asked to come up with a program she was passionate about, she knew her life-long love of sewing really could benefit her students.
“I said they need arts and crafts,” Leach said. “Sewing is a skill they need to have. Forget about the creativity and fun and the all other wonderful virtues for a moment. If I taught them anything, it’s to keep an open mind on what you are learning. That’s my foremost reason for teaching.”
Her enrichment program, which runs every six weeks, is open to all students. Now in its second session, students are showing their patriotism in addition to learning a valuable life skill. They are sewing poppies to show their support for those who have defended the country. The poppies are sewn out of felt, and pipe cleaners will be used for the stems.
The poppies, symbols of death, life and remembrance, will be given to veterans in attendance of the school’s Veterans Day program Nov. 11. The program will start with a breakfast in the middle school gym and will include performances by a military choir, poetry readings and re-enactments.
Eighth-grader Anais Lopez said she is proud to participate in the Veterans Day program because she likes to help out and wants to honor the veterans. She said she always has been interested in sewing because a lot of her family members sew.
“It was either sewing or chorus. I chose sewing, but I wasn’t so sure,” Lopez said. “I wanted to try something new. I like how sewing makes me feel stress-free at the end of the day, and I enjoy the teacher.”
Leach grew up in a theatrical family and had a modeling and acting career for a brief period, but she had dreams of turning her sewing hobby into a career by becoming a costume designer. She said her parents told her she would starve. She was told the same when she toyed with the idea of becoming a home ec teacher.
Leach eventually went into general education but never gave up on her hopes to share her hobby with her students. She was influenced by a book she read years ago that said kids today don’t know how to do arts and crafts.
“So I taught a lesson last year with my special education class that involved making stockings,” Leach said. “We ended up with over 113 stockings, and we sold them and split the proceeds with the school. What that told me was that special education students respond to sewing. The response has been quite amazing.”
Lopez said at first she was afraid to try sewing because she thought she might fail.
Now, she is confident in honing her new skill and said she enjoys sewing with her grandmother.
“I got so into it,” Lopez said. “You can do things even when you think you can’t. Don’t give up.”
Leach said she sees examples of such enthusiasm and confidence from many of her students and feels gratified at the success of her idea.
“I told them, ‘trust me you’re going to like this’, and you hope you’re not lying,” Leach said. “I’ve come into classrooms where kids don’t want to be there, but with this class these kids get ahead of me. They’re at the sewing machines already when I walk in.
“You hope that you know what you’re doing when you take something like this on. It’s gratifying to see they’re getting a big kick out of it. It’s working. It’s just working. It’s very rewarding.”