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Fourth Graders at Hillcrest Elementary Unleash Creative Genius

Fourth Grade Quilting Project at Hillcrest Elementary

Fourth Grade Quilting Project at Hillcrest Elementary

Fourth graders at Hillcrest Elementary School in Downers Grove are breaking expectations, not at all related to test scores.

With help from parent volunteer and professional quilt maker Yvonne Malone, they're playing with fabrics and building budgets. And many are taking note.

“Quilting doesn’t demand a right or wrong answer,” said Malone, owner of Yvonne Malone Studio. “It's a form of creative expression that also teaches math, design, and informs other topics in classroom curriculum.”

To raise funds for educational programming and technology, the Hillcrest PTA last month hosted “Game Night,” a chance for parents to play, and bid on auction items—including artwork created by students—like the quilt fourth graders in teacher Meghan Macdonald’s classroom wanted to make.

“I was surprised, and thought it would be a difficult project. There are so many steps," said Macdonald. “Yet, my students were amped up about it, putting themselves into the quilt and making decisions about their vision, as a team.”

Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation passed in 2001, teachers like Macdonald are tasked with making sure students meet minimum proficiency standards. There’s a lot of testing to make sure that happens, and Macdonald’s job partly depends on it.

“It helps to have other opportunities for students to be creative,” said Macdonald. “And this was a chance for my students to work together on a unique project they could call their own."

While NCLB benefits some, critics claim the mandate largely ignores creative thinking, and stunts academic growth. As a result, students are slow to solve problems and innovate solutions without the goal of giving a right answer.

NCLB, in effect, has changed the way kids think.

And it’s something that concerns business leaders, too. When IBM last year asked 1500 CEOs to name what’s most needed to compete and succeed, creativity topped their list. There’s great demand for creative thinking, and seemingly a dwindling supply.

Malone also recognizes this downward trend in creative thinking and wants students, including her kids, to discover creative abilities beyond what classrooms might allow or instruct. That is why she offered her time and talent, and nothing more than guidelines.

“One student insisted on using a smaller piece of yellow fabric rather than a precut larger piece,” said Malone. “She knew exactly what she was doing. It was brilliant, really.”

When students finished their blocks, Malone gathered and sewed each exactly as they designed. Later, students titled the quilt, “Colorful Paradise.” Their modern work of art was then sent to auction.

Hillcrest PTA raised more than $15,000 that night.

The Fourth Grade Quilting Project of Hillcrest Elementary might benefit test scores. Without doubt, though, it promises exactly what parents, teachers, and civic and business leaders hope.

“I’m so grateful. Yvonne helped my students exercise creativity in ways they didn't expect," said Macdonald. "Good things happen when they think for themselves, and work together.”

Perhaps that’s a lesson we could all use.

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