Vol. 25, No. 3 • Mailed monthly to over 13,500 homes in the Gateway & Parkrose Communities Free • July 2009
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Sewing experience comes full circle
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Sewing experience comes full circle


This 12’ x 12’ hand- and machine-sewn quilt — intended to become the new school banner — was created by students (with adult volunteer assistance) of the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods after-school sewing class at Shaver Elementary in the Parkrose School District. It will soon hang in the cafeteria, long enough in the future, it’s hoped, for the children of the quilt’s creators to see it.

Proudly pointing to squares they created are third-graders, from left, Sa’Tya Barber and Marquisha Hill.
SUN after-school sewing class leader Jean Toscano helped fourth-grader Kaylee Green create her new pajamas.
Lilia Garcia, a sewing teacher with the Shaver After School Club, helps fourth grader Kaylee Green, left, put the finishing touches on her pajamas while third grader Barbara Tausinga waits her turn. In the 2008-09 school year, 240 of the 380 students at Shaver Elementary were enrolled in the SUN After School Club in the Parkrose School District
In a pleasant twist of fate recreating the same experience for students the same age she was when she created her first needle-and-thread nirvana, Jean (Jeannie) Toscano recently finished her first full year as lead instructor of a Schools Uniting Neighbors sewing program at Shaver Elementary.

At 10 years old, Toscano enrolled in a sewing class at her elementary school in Pond, California. The next year, budget cuts canceled the pilot program, crushing Toscano. A love for sewing and a lifelong passion for creating was ignited, smoldering for decades until, after landing at Shaver in an unrelated educational position, she, along with SUN Coordinator Helen Vank, created and molded the new program.

Toscano couldn’t be happier. “I love it,” she said. “I’m happy. I know the kids love it. I know that Lilia (Garcia) and Maria (Olvera) (parent volunteers who work with her) are just as passionate about it as I am. They love it too; we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our time every afternoon.”

After living in Mexico for 22 years with her husband, the Toscanos moved to Portland, where, on arrival, she found employment at Fabric Depot on Southeast 122nd Avenue and Stark Street. Because it was a good fit for someone with a passion for sewing, Toscano worked there for 10 years. Her first employment in education came as a teaching assistant, specializing in English Language Learners at the North Clackamas School District for three years; she has held the same position at Shaver Elementary for the last five.

Toscano’s passion for sewing, combined with the students’ thirst for knowledge, has produced impressive results. When Vank decided something new was needed to represent Shaver and its school spirit to replace the school banner hanging in the gym, she knew where to turn: “I took the quilt idea to Jeannie,” Vank said. “With a little help from the adult sewing class on Wednesdays, she ran with the idea.” SUN sewing class students, from first to fifth grade, made individual artwork and lettering on squares; the adult sewing class set them in place on the quilt, with the students completing the task by sewing them on. Displaying creators’ names on each square of the quilt gives it that personal feel. Currently hanging in the school’s main hallway, the 12’ x 12’ masterpiece will eventually replace the school banner in the gym; it is hoped the quilt will be displayed long enough for sewing class students’ children to see it.

After harboring her burning attachment to sewing for so long, Toscano approached Vank before the 2007-08 school year with the idea of starting a sewing class. According to Vank, “Jean brought an idea for a sewing class and I said, sure. If you have parents who are willing to volunteer and help teach this class, I’ll find you the kids and get you the teaching space.”

After the trial year, Vank decided the sewing class had been a success. “At the beginning of this year, I told Jean if she still wanted to do a sewing class, I would pay Lilia and Maria to come in and do this because they put in so much work.” Because of the combination of Toscano’s dedication, Vank’s supervision and parent volunteers’ commitments, the same regard and passion for sewing Toscano possesses have been sparked in many a Shaver student.

The latest class sewing project is making pajamas. A student’s mother brought in a box of fabric to make the pajamas from. Materials for the sewing class come from donations, yard sales and estate sales. Inspiring creativity, the kids love working with out-of-style and loud, colorful fabrics. Squares for the school quilt were made from just such scraps, which the students transformed into — to name a few — flowers, animals, cars and tanks. Surprisingly, the boys in the class took to sewing quite well, according to Toscano. She was thrilled to see how many boys participated, bringing original, interesting and cute ideas. Three quilts were created earlier in the year and raffled off at the school’s Family Night. One quilt that was also made by the Wednesday evening adult/student sewing class, with pink and purple with autumn leaves, was auctioned off at the annual Parkrose Educational Foundation Auction/Dinner.

“Education is essential to the long-term sustainability of the community,” Shaver Principal Cindy Bartman said.
“The quilt project is a really excellent thing for them and the school, just to see these kids succeed in a positive activity is worth it.”

The sewing program will remain in SUN’s future. “It’s such a successful program,” Vank said. “They’ve been able to do such great things that it’s certainly something I would keep in the program for next year.”
Good news for the next batch of little Jeannies — and Johnnys — sewers of the future.

Lucas T. Curran helped in the gathering of information for, and writing of this article.

Schools Uniting Neighborhoods originated in 1998 when the sponsor group of the community building initiative developed a strategy to help local communities and schools. The partnership between Multnomah County, the city of Portland, the city of Gresham, the state of Oregon and the school districts developed a long-term strategy: organizing services more efficiently in the city’s and county’s public school district and extending the school day. Thus SUN was born with specific objectives to achieve these goals. The objectives were educational success, to provide a social and health support system within the SUN schools, and to connect the curriculum of the school with after-school activities that provide enrichment and recreational opportunities for students.

To do this, the school day and the schools’ open hours needed to be extended, allowing the school to become a community center after normal school hours.

Eight demonstration sites were started during the 1999-00 school year. The program was not designed for just the high-risk youth; it is for the entire school population and the surrounding community.

According to Vank, “The goal of the SUN community school model is to use the school as a community center and to bring in parents, adults, and kids from the community and offer classes they are interested in.”

Not wanting a concentration of SUN Community Schools in any one part of the city, site selection is determined by geographic and economic standards. Currently there are 54 SUN Community School sites across 6 school districts in Multnomah County. This includes 21 elementary, 13 middle, 14 K-8, five high and one K-12 school. SUN Community Schools serve a wide age group — from preschoolers to high school seniors — the majority of those served are between the ages of five and 19. In the Parkrose School District, besides the SUN Community School at Shaver, there is one at Parkrose High School.

Begun during the 2005-06 school year with 75 students, the Shaver Elementary Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program currently has enrolled 240 of the 380 students at Shaver. The SUN students attend academic and recreational programs, with 130 to 140 students regularly attending.

The SUN program at Shaver is a partnership with the Parkrose School District and Metropolitan Family Services (Vank’s employer). MFS receives Title I money and staff to run the academic classes. The Boys and Girls Clubs provide two on-site staff members to run recreation classes and B&GC curriculum.

In addition, Vank hires staff to do primarily enrichment, youth development programs and to run service-learning projects. Due to partnering with nonprofits, SUN Shaver is able to support 140 students today.

Shaver SUN Coordinator Helen Vank role is to do the paperwork, coordinate the partner agencies like Chess for Success, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Girls Inc., AKA Science, and others from individuals like Jean Toscano.

Some classes are paid for through partners and grants and some Vank pays for some, the school also pays for some. Because Toscano worked at Shaver, she was aware of the SUN program and the possibilities for someone like her with an attachment for sewing.

Anyone in the community with an idea for an after-school class is encouraged to bring it to Vank’s attention. “I like staff to take ownership of their classes and be teaching something they’re really passionate about.”

Based on Vank’s education and interest, her first job with SUN was teaching a creative writing class at Shaver.
The growth has been allowed by the school district’s support and Title I funds.

Despite anticipated budget cuts, Vank is hoping to run the same size program but with less money. “There will be after-school programs at Shaver next year. The number of kids that we can serve depends on a lot of different factors, like the ability of the Boys and Girls Clubs (of Portland) continuing to provide staff. This year that staff has been free. A lot of things are out of my hands ... I just try to do the best with what I have, and never count on those resources remaining.”

For the 2009-10 school year, Vank may not know how many kids she’ll be able to serve until September. If you have an idea for a SUN class at Shaver, call Vank at 503-408-2892.
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