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It won’t let me save the description without publishing, but here’s what I had in mind: Students at City High created a fashion line and learned about each others’ backgrounds during the class in spring of 2017.
Holly Hines / Press-Citizen

Starting a movement. Becoming a leader. Finding common ground. Exploring other cultures. 

It was a lot to pack into one class, but students at City High said they found a way during the past 12 weeks in a new fashion course led by local fashion designer Andre Wright and City’s I-JAG program specialist, Elizabeth Rook. 

During a high-energy class period Thursday, students prepared the final details for their culminating project: A fashion show the next day, where they would showcase a line of shirts, leggings and hats they created together, called WE:AR United.

The experience was part of a unique opportunity at City that incorporated a volunteer teacher and a strong focus on hands-on learning, said Principal John Bacon. 

“We’ve never done anything like this whatsoever,” he said. 

Senior Dalia Castaneda said that, although their product was a fashion line, the experience was about much more than clothes. She said she hoped their brand would start a movement, give young people a voice and reflect diversity at City and across the nation. 

Many of the students said diversity and unity were major themes of their brand, and cooperation was a key lesson during class. Their backgrounds ranged from Iowan black and Latina students to white, Iowan students to African immigrants to Latina students from outside Iowa.

Senior Malika Franklin, 17, said the class introduced her to other cultures’ clothing, languages and customs — lessons she thinks other classes lack. 

“I like the fact that we got the opportunity to do something we’ve never done before,” she said. 

Sophomore Laura Apolonio, 15, said she and her peers sought to bridge divides between student groups and ethnicities and create clothing anyone could wear. She said the classwork was a lesson in maturity as she realized the others depended on her to coordinate music, lighting and the stage setup for the fashion show. 

She said they disagreed at times on their approach to the project, but she believes they’re all proud of the product they created. 

“At the end, we all came to an agreement,” Apolonio said. 

Sophomore Alicia Estrada, 15, said she enjoyed the responsibility of working with her classmates to realize a common goal. 

“At first it was just a concept we all had. And then we started brainstorming and actually doing things,” Estrada said. 

Wright, also an entrepreneurial advancement leader for the Iowa City Area Development group, said he approached Bacon earlier this school year with the idea of teaching fashion, teamwork and other skills. The concept developed into a for-credit, pass-fail class, titled Leaders of the New School Fashion Class.

On a volunteer basis, Wright worked with the students, in grades 9-12, on team building and understanding their own strengths. He said he hoped it would be a student-led experience. 

“The platform is fashion, but the idea is to teach them those soft skills,” he said. 

Rook said Wright’s consistent presence in the classroom allowed him to build a relationship with the students, creating a unique opportunity. She said the class was unlike others, in that the focus was a project rather than tests, assignments and lectures. 

“They spent the whole time creating,” she said. 

The class was an extension of a makerspace partnership between the development group and the Iowa City Community School District. As part of the initiative, visiting “makers,” including entrepreneurs, have visited schools to work with students on hands-on projects.

Freshman Prisca Namutchibwe said collaborating, communicating and compromising were all important parts of their process throughout the fashion project. 

Namutchibwe, 15, said it really hit home how much work it takes to create a product and plan an event. She said she tried to help solve disagreements between her peers and bring “a good vibe” to the group.  

“I fell in love with these people like my own family,” Namutchibwe said. 

Wright and Bacon both said they hope the class can continue. Wright said he is seeking financial support and volunteers to sustain the initiative. 

Throughout the class, he took video clips to create a documentary of the experience. He said he plans to produce the documentary by the beginning of the next school year, and he hopes it helps viewers understand the students’ experience. 

“I think it’s something special when you can show people that,” he said. 

Get involved 

Those interested in volunteering, sponsoring or donating to the Leaders of the New School Fashion Class can contact Andre Wright by email at awright@icadgroup.com