Anne Arundel schools offer classroom version of 'Project Runway'

Middle-schoolers learn about fabrics and fashion

September 24, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

The Severna Park Middle School sixth-graders huddled around swaths of different fabrics — from cotton to wool to silk — that many had worn but few took time to really look at. Earlier, they learned that polyester resists moths, "pills" are lint balls permanently stuck to aging garments and denim is derived from the French phrase "Serge de Nimes," with Nimes being the city in the south of France where denim might have originated.

The students were participating in Project Runway, an interdisciplinary class that borrows its name from the designer fashion series on Lifetime. Most of the students say they've watched the show, and they relish taking part in Anne Arundel County public schools' version, which allows them to learn firsthand about the fashion industry.

The students in Project Runway learn about the history of fashion and how it applies to everyday life. They discover and develop their creative talents using graphics and digital resources. They explore fashion in magazines and as a career. At the end of the course, they will stage a digital fashion show in which their designs will be displayed on a computer.

Project Runway is part of the county's efforts to offer students innovative and engaging classes, said Sheryl Metzger, teacher specialist for the county's Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS). The course is in part a revamped version of traditional sewing programs with an interdisciplinary approach that covers practically every area of the garment industry.

"What's different is that it's a class and not a show," said sixth-grader Taylor Dearborn.

The class introduces youngsters to the nuances of fashion at a time when they are readily expressing themselves through fashion, experimenting with different patterns, colors and styles.

"[Fashion has] become an important part of our lives," said sixth-grader Abby Federroll.

Like many of the sixth-graders, Taylor says she watches "Project Runway" to see the different designs and decides whether she believes something is in good or bad taste. Now she's become aware of how and where such items are made, as she and classmates tackle such homework assignments as examining fabric labels to see how many countries make clothing.

Students make their own items as well, including recycled tote bags, using computer software for designs. Metzger added that the course also teaches students to give to their community by designing such items as pillows for chemotherapy patients.

'A fun class'

"It's a fun class," said sixth-grader Shanika Beckett. "It's not much different [than the show] because we are making the same things."

Anne Arundel's Project Runway began countywide as a sixth-grade course, but because of its popularity, it's now offered in seventh grade as well, and the county is exploring plans for a high school equivalent.

"Sewing isn't the vehicle; technology is driving the course," said Cheryl Crow, FACS teacher at Severna Park Middle School, which has 105 students enrolled in Project Runway this year.

Metzger said the course studies the history of fashion from 1900 to the present and added that students learn, for example, how research has shown that experiments in fashion go hand-in-hand with the economy.

"During a recession, hemlines usually drop, and when we have lots of money, they rise," Metzger said.

The course also shows students how to conduct a "burn test" to determine what kind of fabric a garment is made from. Crow says that natural fabrics smell like protein and are more likely to burn than synthetic fabrics, which smell like chemicals and are more likely to melt.

Learning, too

Julia Pimental, FACS teacher at George Fox Middle School in Pasadena, said that on the first day of her Project Runway class, she gauged how many students had seen the program and discovered that many thought the class would be conducted similarly.

She added, "A few kids had an unrealistic idea of what it took to design that finished product. But we've been speaking about that at length, about all the preparation that has to go into it to get to that point."

Pimental said the more the students learn about clothing, the more likely they can become better consumers.

"They're looking at a lot more than just the style," she said. "Now they're looking at construction, cost, comparison shopping, different types of fibers, the characteristics of care labels. I'm trying to give them a greater appreciation for all of those things."

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