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Grant Magnet Elementary students weave their history

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A quilt created by Grant Magnet Elementary students represents the stories of students' families (Photo by Ali Draves).

By ALI DRAVES & JOEL RUNCK
DCN reporters

Grant Magnet Elementary, like other specialized schools, is known for its ability to integrate the fine arts into the curriculum. Teachers constantly prepare art programs that will correspond with their lesson plans.


However, not even the teachers could have imagined that a simple art project could turn into an irreplaceable cultural experience.

Kathy Levine, a fourth-grade teacher at Grant Magnet, has always tried to incorporate some aspect of the arts into her teaching.

Her fourth grade class started to analyze Woody Guthrie’s folksong, “This Land Is Your Land,? and something magical happened.

“The students began to wonder what land meant to them,? Levine said. “They started talking to their relatives about their genealogical history and how they ended up in Duluth.?

As the students began to make interesting discoveries about their lives, Levine extended the learning even further.

“I think big,? she said. “I wanted to find a way to depict their own heritage and still learn about the overall culture.?

Levine decided that a class loom would allow her students to represent their ancestry in a special way.

“Sue Brown, one of my student’s grandmothers, was known for her weaving skill,? Levine said. “She came in every day and helped us during free-time.?

Levine gave each student a 12-by-18-inch loom to make their own.

“Each color they chose had to represent something,? Levine said. “It had to be important to them.?

And although Levine had high hopes for the project, she didn’t expect to hear such inspiring stories.

Eleven-year-old Rosalie was one of them.

“I chose to use red, white and blue for Holland and the United States,? she said. “My family had to take a boat and move here because of the Nazis. They came here with only one suitcase and the clothes on their back.?

Rosalie wasn’t the only student who learned something amazing from their ancestors.

“My blood is mostly German,? said 11-year-old Andrew. “I chose red, black and yellow because my grandmother was born in Germany, but had to leave in the 1930’s because she was Jewish. She traveled alone.?

Blue and white were also used to represent the Finnish flag, he said.

“My other grandmother is Finnish and very proud of her heritage,? Andrew said. “She really likes to sauna because that's what Finnish people like.?

The looms proved to be educational and eye opening.

“I chose green because it stands for the cotton fields where my ancestors worked as slaves,? said 10-year-old Matthew. “The blue is the Lake Superior, the brown is for the trails my Dad and I run on and the purple is for my native land, Africa.?

Ten-year-old Brittany shared a similar experience.

“The yellow, black, white and red stands for the Fond Du Lac Reservation,? said Johnson. “The tee-pee on the weave stands for what my ancestors used to live in. We were the first ones here in America until the Europeans came over.?

She used several other colors, including green and blue for her parent’s favorite colors.

However, she learned more than most.

“The last line of green is where our tee-pee used to be on,? said Brittany. “It’s not there anymore.?

Levine said these stories were really touching.

“I can’t describe it, but we all learned so much about each other,? she said.

Recreational Specialist at Grant Community Center Chuck Campbell agrees.

“It was just one of those amazing things,? he said. “After some stories, there were a lot of tears.?

Other students discovered a past they knew nothing about.

“The blue I picked represents the Smoky Mountains where my Cherokee ancestors once lived and for Lake Superior, where I live now,? said 11-year-old Keaton.

Keaton, who has ancestors from Germany, Norway and Ireland, also incorporated the national flag colors into his weave.

“It was a lot of fun,? he said. “My mom makes great Sauerkraut and now I know why.?

Levine dedicated the final product to the Grant Recreation Community Center, where it hangs proudly in the main building.

“It still catches my eye and I’m reminded of all of the good things that came out of it,? Campbell said.

Levine’s fourth graders won a Minnesota Department of Learning Award for their outstanding work on the loom.

Despite the award, Levine said the students walked away with something much more important.

“The students learned what they were to each other, to this community, to this city and to this country,? Levine said. “By looking at their heritages and backgrounds, they could easily see how much their histories intertwined and connected. That is an important part of life.?