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October 16, 2021

Millbridge Elementary staff works together to create barn quilt square

By Maggie Blackwell
For the Salisbury Post

MILLBRIDGE — There’s a giant barn quilt square on Millbridge Elementary School, and every staff person at the school had a hand in it.

It’s the brainchild of Principal Jordan Baker, whose wife had made some art at West Rowan Farm, Home & Garden Center. Elsie Bennett at the center helps folks make barn quilt squares of all sizes to “blanket” that end of Rowan County.

Baker approached Bennett about the possibility of his staff creating one for the front of the school. His staff works so hard, he says, and he wanted to reward them with a little time to just be together.

Bennett helped him design the square, and they struggled a little on what should be in the center. He preferred an intricate design while Bennett recommended the school logo.

Baker decided to let the staff decide.

Bennett mocked up three potential designs for the center, and they chose the school mascot.

“He was thinking more of a fully painted traditional barn quilt,” Bennett said. “But I said you want something that’s there for years to come. Suppose the next principal doesn’t care about quilts. How can we make it relevant to the school?

“The staff chose the mascot. If it has meaning to people, if their heart is in it, then when someone says, ‘Let’s take it down,’ if it has meaning, they have a fight on their hands.”

Baker planned a staff outing for the first teacher workday after Christmas. He kept the project a secret, telling staff members only that they had a surprise in store for the workday. Third-grade teacher April Weaver says that’s characteristic of Baker.

“I believe his heart is with making people happy — making people feel they are a part of something,” Weaver says. “He makes the kids feel very special every day. I love that he made that day fun for us.”

On the morning of the workday, Baker announced that the teachers would be taking an outing. He passed out schedules. Each hour of the day, a group from the school would be at the center to help make a barn square for the school.

Baker included all staff members — teachers, teacher assistants, office staff, custodians and lunchroom workers. He also arranged for snacks at the venue.

“I hoped it would be some fun time, some down time,” Baker says. “And I hoped it might develop team-building with the time together.”

The squares throughout West Rowan County are varied in size. Many are multiples of 4 by 8 feet, the size of plywood. But some are odd sizes.

The Millbridge square is a big one — 16 by 16 feet, backed with 4-by-4s for support. It’s mounted on a large building that sits far from the road.  For a sense of scale, the square needed to be a big one.

Bennett taped off sections of the board for each team of educators so there would be nice, crisp lines.

Barn quilts need to be painted with exterior paint because of their exposure to the elements, and she had just the right colors ready for each team. As the teams left, they voted on the center they preferred.

“Elsie actually finished the center,” Baker says. “It was a little more intricate.”

The square was complete by the end of the day, and Bennet completed her part a week or two later. On delivery day, the Bennetts brought the square to the school — on a hay wagon.

Bennett smiles. “It’s the only way we could get it there.”

Baker let the square stay under a gazebo on school grounds for a day so staff members could sign the back. Weaver loved that final step.

“So we are all on the back. That is very thoughtful to me,” Weaver says. “I’m pretty sentimental about stuff like that. It added ownership to it. Baker respects each of us and believes we are doing what is best for our kids. Regarding the middle, it’s so perfect that he gave us a choice. He thought of us.”

Bennett says the staff at West Rowan Elementary School is interested in making a quilt square, too. With a wildcat as the mascot, she may have a challenge.

Baker is pretty darned proud of the square.

“It ties us into the community,” he says, looking up at it. “It’s a very rural community with lots of culture and tradition. Now we fit into what is going on around us.”

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