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Life Skills Learned After School
0313 May Aspire 2
Sixth grader Christina Cooper sews the first stitches of a simple skirt that she is making in the Aspire after school program at Magnolia Elementary School. The sewing class students will put on a fashion show showcasing their projects at the end of the school year. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

Learning how to grow vegetables and fruit, learning to sew, and preparing food are a few life skills that some students in the Aspire program at Magnolia Elementary School are learning weekly during the hours after school.

The kindergarten through sixth grade students seem to enjoy learning the skills now and will be able to apply their knowledge later. Gardening, sewing, and nutrition, etiquette, and cooking are a few of the offerings on the enrichment classes menu in the after school program. Each elementary school site in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District has an Aspire after school program, each having homework and academic help for the first hour, then recreation and some different enrichment offerings for the final hour. The students choose their own enrichment activities.

Annette Kimball, Magnolia’s After School Program Manager, reported that they have about 130 students attend daily, which makes up between one-fourth and one-fifth of students enrolled at the school who participate in Aspire.

Recently at Magnolia, some Aspire students worked on making a simple skirt in the sewing class; the first time they’ve made a piece of clothing for themselves. The sewing class was first offered at the end of last school year with a grant from Oakdale Educational Foundation for sewing machines. This is the first full year for the sewing program and already the students have been able to complete more projects than last year, with several more to go. Linda Blattler and other volunteers come in to teach the class.

“I’ve learned how to do a backstitch, how to use a sewing machine, how to change the type of stitch, how to make a pincushion, how to use a seam ripper,” said sixth grader Christina Cooper.

She said the hardest thing was learning to do the backstitch and that she really liked the idea of being able to make clothes for herself.

Sixth grader Sarah Lawson said she likes to challenge herself and see how fast she can press the sewing machine pedal and still sew straight. Her biggest challenge, she said, was keeping the fabric on the guide on the machine.

Kimball said that age 10 to 12 is a good age to start learning how to use the sewing machine. The students learn how to stitch straight, put in the bobbin, use the presser foot, and the pedal. They started the class with learning the basics such as how the sewing machine operates, doing various hand stitches, knotting, and measuring and cutting fabric.

Now, each one of the students in the class has their own small sewing kit they bring with them and they can hem, repair, put in an elastic waistband, and do other simple sewing projects.

Putting their skills to use to do something for others in the community, the students also made receiving blankets for infants to be added to layette baskets that will be donated by a local church to Oak Valley Hospital’s Pediatrics/Obstetrics unit.

“This is a service-learning activity,” Kimball explained, noting that in the program they make an effort to tie in various Aspire projects with community service.

Members of Oakdale’s Garden Club, Judy Gallagher and Joan Lind, volunteer to teach students about maintaining a garden – pulling weeds, how to plant, care for, and harvest the plants. Currently, they’re growing celery, spinach, broccoli, artichokes, onions, and snow peas. The kids have also learned an important lesson about how much to plant. Last year, they planted so many tomatoes they couldn’t keep up with the bounty. They shared the foods grown in the garden with the cooking class students, who wound up making a lot of salsa. Students in the cooking class learn about things like food safety, cleaning the food, the vitamins in vegetables and fruit, and the different colors associated with different varieties of a particular vegetable.

In the garden there are also fruit and nut trees, and they plan to plant some strawberries and summer vegetables soon.

“We could extend the (gardening) program more if we had more volunteers,” Gallagher noted.

The students are also working on a special project with River Partners to germinate acorns and grow oak seedlings to be transplanted along the Stanislaus River. The river group provided the acorns, soil, and containers for the project.

A new enrichment class offering, ceramics, is starting this week at Magnolia’s Aspire program. For people who’d like to volunteer to help with certain Aspire programs at Magnolia, contact Annette Kimball at (209) 988-1845.

To register a child for Aspire, a registration packet can be picked up at the OJUSD office, 168 S. Third Ave. or through the district website at and clicking on “After School Programs” under the “Quick Links” heading.