Students at Watershed School in Boulder created sewed masks to donate to those in need. (Photo courtesy: Jen Curtis, Watershed School).

Students at Watershed School shift gears and reach out to help the community.

This past spring, 18 students from grades 6 through 12 at Watershed School in Boulder sewed 590 masks, which they donated to Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), a non-profit organization that builds, owns and manages one-third of Boulder’s affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents. BHP distributed the student-crafted masks, along with other supplies, to individuals in their program.

Jen Curtis, educator and college counselor at Watershed School, managed this volunteer effort. She says, “Our May Term courses are month-long intensives where we typically travel all over the world with our students while diving into a topic of study. This year, with the lockdowns, we were all remote and our courses canceled as we worked from home. This provided us an opportunity to shift gears, reach out, and engage students in work that matters to improve the Boulder County community in response to local challenges brought on by COVID-19.”

Hence, a number of projects – including the mask making – ran for four school weeks from April 22 to May 20:

• Boulder Community Mask Makers – Students create sewed masks to donate to those in need.

• Outreach to Elderly and Healthcare Professionals – A group of middle school students wrote and mailed letters of appreciation to healthcare professionals and participated in Zoom hangouts with local residents
of elderly care facilities.

• Film Fest – Experience Stories to a Post-COVID-19 Future: Students gathered films from teens around the country reflecting on how COVID has impacted their lives.

• Tech Support and Web Design Students worked with Anschutz Medical Center to build a website to support healthcare professionals experiencing pandemic trauma and worked with a local consulting organization to build frameworks for virtual gatherings and celebrations when unable to gather in person.•

• Boulder Buddy Projects – Students created free, live and filmed, classes for local elementary-aged students of working parents to give young students something fun to do from home.

• Serving Ecological Communities Students completed field-testing (water sampling and bird species monitoring) for the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab.

• Boulder Food and Housing Security Students interviewed local farmers and worked to support organizations providing access to food.

• Watershed Community Connections: students interviewed businesses for the Chamber of Commerce and wrote some pieces for a local journal on pandemic experiences.

How the Mask Makers project succeeded
With students and teachers working from different locations, it took considerable coordination to produce the masks.

According to Curtis, “All students who signed on to this project had sewing machines at home, and we ran this project entirely on Zoom. I taught this course with two other educators, Chris Carithers and Casey Pyle. Over Zoom, we had group classes and each ran sewing tutorials for individuals who had never sewn before to teach them how to use their machine and worked with our more experienced students to improve their mask patterns and work on mask production.

“We set a group goal in the beginning of our course to sew and donate 400 masks. As the month went on, some students really dove in and we ended up sewing and donating 590 masks. We partnered with E-Quilter in Gunbarrel, who donated their fabric remnants to us (and many other local mask makers) to use for the masks. Elastic was out of stock everywhere at that time, so we cut up spandex tablecloths into strips for the ear loops. We had a trunk system set up at our school where students could pick up materials and drop off completed masks outside our school building.

“We sewed mostly adult masks, but as we all got comfortable with the patterns, we sewed some child-sized masks as well. We donated all of the masks with washing and wearing instructions. All masks should be washed at your own home before wearing, so you’re sure they are clean before using.”

By Judy Finman, Raised in the Rockies