Teacher pursues quilting project

North Reading resident Susan Fitzgerald will nourish her long-time passion for quilting this summer at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, and plan the second year of a school-wide project on the fiber arts at the Boston elementary school in which she teaches. Fitzgerald is one of 43 teachers in the Boston Public Schools who recently won a Fund For Teachers/Boston grant for summer travel and study from the Boston Plan for Excellence, the city’s local education foundation.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to develop my skills as a quilter in a relaxed setting,” says Fitzgerald, who teaches grade 2 at Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. “Being one of 12 students in a supportive classroom, developing my creative skills in color and pattern, is a dream, with nature as a backdrop.”

Fitzgerald is part of a three-teacher team from the Manning who will study at the folk arts school. Last year, the Manning was the “lucky recipient” of several sheep fleeces, a donation that led to a school-wide project on the fiber arts. “We all learned to skirt, scour, and pick the fleece. Hallways were filled with children lugging buckets of water to and from classrooms to wash away muck from the wool. “The children loved it!,” the team says. That project helped students understand, they emphasize, that everyday materials came from somewhere, and that production was a step-by-step process that can be broken down, identified, and with practice, mastered.

In their two weeks in North Carolina, studying under nationally known instructors and with “protected time to focus on our own education,” the three hope to master new skills in dyeing, weaving, and quilting for their project this fall. “Student learning, especially their language skills, just exploded during our fiber arts unit last year,” says Fitzgerald. “They described the activities, shared experiences, read directions, wrote stories (and directions), recorded results, predicted amounts of material and time needed for tasks.” Adding quilting will allow students to experiment with shapes, color, and pattern designs and to integrate math, Fitzgerald adds.

Fitzgerald has taught in Boston’s public schools for 34 years, including 23 years at the Manning, and has lived in East Walpole for 22 years. She has also been a member of North Parish Quilters for 20 years.

Fund For Teachers/Boston is a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence and the Boston Public Schools, and this is the third summer the partnership has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools. For summer 2006, 43 teachers have won $169,226 in grants to travel to and study in 29 foreign countries and several states. Supported exclusively with private monies, Fund For Teachers/Boston is underwritten by the national Fund For Teachers; by the Surdna Foundation and an anonymous donor, which fund Teachers As Artists grants; and by other donors.