Lefler students embrace personal history during embroidery project

Lefler Middle School students stitched together significant moments of their personal histories this spring during an artistic social studies project.
Eighth graders in Becky Boswell’s American history classes showcased their personal culture and identity through handheld embroidery projects. More than 150 students designed images of their hobbies, cultural heritage and family history. They then stitched them onto fabric blocks that they could take home as a source of personal pride.
Sarah and Brody both said they were excited to work on the project. Both were glad Boswell chose to create a unique way to teach history lessons.
“At first I was kind of surprised, because I didn’t expect it to be something about ourselves,” Sarah said. “I expected it to be about something in history or related to social studies, but as we further got into the project, I realized it kind of does have something to do with social studies and history. It’s about our history and what makes us, us.”
“I was kind of surprised too, because at first it didn’t go into history or what we were doing in class,” Brody said. “Embroidery is not something you’d usually do in social studies class. It was surprising, but it made sense though, because it does show how it ties in with history and about yourself.”
Principal Allison Meister said she was thrilled when she learned about the project. She said the embroidery experience dovetailed nicely with one of Lefler’s current school improvement goals. Teachers and staff would like to help students foster deeper connections with everyone in the school and community.
“One of the components of community is sharing your identity, and so this is really critical to the creation of a greater sense of community in the building,” Meister said. “It is very important to all of us that kids feel that they can share who they are with one another.”
Boswell has woven many creative assignments into her American history classes during her career. She was brainstorming for new project ideas when she spoke with students who were taking a family and consumer sciences (FCS) class. She realized the embroidery designs they were working on there would blend right in with her social studies curriculum.
“Not all the kids take that class, but the ones who do were really excited about the embroidery projects they would do, and so it turned into having them tell the story of themselves,” Boswell said. “For a lot of people, it included immigration stories, it included stories about family and essentially what makes them who they are. Culture’s a big part of understanding history, so it’s important for kids to understand their own culture and their own history.”
Boswell received two $1,000 grants from the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools and Humanities Nebraska for the project. She purchased fabric, needles, embroidery thread, hoops and needle threaders for each person to use. She also asked family members, retired friends and Lincoln Quilt Guild members if they would volunteer their time to help students learn the basics of sewing.
Students then took off from there. Boswell said she was impressed with the enthusiasm and energy they showed with all of their embroidery ideas.
“One boy had this elaborate plan, and I said to him, ‘You know, that’s a lot. I just want to make sure you understand what you’re getting into,’” Boswell said. “And he said, ‘Oh no, I am so into this. This is going to happen. I want all of this on here because it’s all such an important part of who I am.’
“So they took this home, they worked on it at night, over the weekend. I’ve never seen kids doing so much homework in my life as they did with embroidery.”
Brody sewed a picture of himself on his piece of fabric with a cross, the letter ‘B,’ the words ‘friends’ and ‘family’ and a U.S. Marines symbol. Brody said he wants to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, great-uncle and second cousin, who all served in the Marines.
Sarah included a Sudanese flag on her quilt block, as her family immigrated from the country when she was younger. She also added a volleyball, a photo of herself as a toddler, pink and blue hearts and red and pink flowers.
“The flowers come from my mom, because she really likes to plant a lot,” Sarah said. “It also represents part of who I am, because I like to plant flowers too.”
As each project began to take shape, students would glance over at their classmates and become curious at their designs. The questions that followed – Why that pattern? What does that symbol mean? What is your family history? – helped them become closer with one another.
“A lot of times we would go around to different people, and you’d learn new things about them, something you might not know,” Brody said.
Sarah said those positive connections helped everyone sew together lasting memories from the project.
“I would say everyone enjoyed it, even if they’ve never embroidered before,” Sarah said. “That was fun to see. Everyone ended up making a really good project. I learned a lot about everyone from doing this.”
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Published: June 11, 2024, Updated: June 12, 2024

From left, Lefler Middle School students Brody and Sarah smile with their embroidery projects at school. Students in Becky Boswell's American history classes showcased their personal culture and history through the embroidery initiative. Sarah and Brody both said they enjoyed working on their projects with their classmates.