Liberty Middle School eighth grade students made quilts as part of a segment on the Underground Railroad and "Freedom Quilts."

The road to freedom for black slaves in the Civil War sometimes took the path of the underground railroad. Guiding them along the way were "Freedom Quilts" that were placed on front porches, clothes lines or hung in windows and had blocks that gave directions to weary slaves as they escaped to freedom, said Stephanie Thompson, Liberty Middle School eighth grade history teacher.

To help students understand this part of American History, Thompson has all her eighth grade students make quilt blocks that are put together to make their own Freedom Quilt. Each student makes one block so they end up with from 90 to 100 blocks depending on the number of eighth graders.

This project combines history, sewing skills, math and some team work. For most of these students, it's the first time they have ever sewn anything so it's a new skill for them. Since it is a new skill, there is a learning curve and there are mistakes that have to be corrected.

"We use the seam ripper a lot. We mess up plenty," Thompson said.

Math skills are used to determine what size to make the material for each block and how big the block will be when it's finished.

The project requires a lot of research and reading to discover the history of the quilts, the underground railroad and the reality of life as a slave and what they had to do to escape.

This is the second year of the Freedom Quilt lesson. The quilts were placed at various locations on the farm the the blocks contained images that helped direct the slaves. Abolitionists used the quilts as a safe way to communicate without getting themselves in trouble. It was also a way for slaves to understand what to look for using images because come couldn't read. Some of the quilt images were boats indicating they needed to go to a river for boat transportation. There were star patterns to indicate they needed to follow the North Star, Thompson said.

Since there are no more home economics classes where students could sew, they do their work in the GATE room with teacher Shari Norman who is also a quilter by trade. She takes the individual student blocks, puts them together and does the actual quilting.

The students pick out the material for the blocks and they pick out the material for the backing.

Besides making quilt blocks, the students each have to write their own slave story and how they escaped. It takes about three weeks and the students cover all the associated subjects.

Thompson admits she is a very organized person and likes all her ducks in a row but for this project that involves some 90 eighth graders, she has had to learn some flexibility and to let her guard down as the students to their own thing.

The student's response to the project has been very positive. They learn history and sewing and get a sense of accomplishment when the quilt is complete.

"Students like to say it's their project at the end of the year," Thompson said.

Once the quilts are complete, they go on display on the wall outside the library at Liberty Middle School. The project takes a lot of work and Thompson said she couldn't do it without help from the other teachers.

Eventually, the quilts are put of for sale. Parents bid on the quilts during student conferences and the money goes towards purchasing supplies for the next years project.

@GaleR_Tribune