Greenies calculate “The True Cost” of cheap labor in garment factories

While the Green Band is in full swing working on their Expression Projects, we’ve also continued a part-time exploration of cloth by studying garment workers and factories. Our study of garment workers was inspired by the documentary, “The True Cost,” which we watched the week before Winter Break. This documentary about the clothing industry specifically analyzed the environmental, social, and economic effects of “fast” fashion. The 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was a huge focus of the documentary, with footage of the building’s wreckage and interviews with garment workers and the factory owners. Students were outraged to hear the mistreatment and working conditions many garment workers face.

Promotional poster for the “The True Cost”

The week we returned from break, the Greenies started to collect data on where our clothing comes from. Over the course of a week, we checked the tags of our clothing each day and collected data from other bands. We then graphed our data.  We found that China is the biggest manufacturer of our clothes by a long shot, making double of what Vietnam makes, which was the second largest manufacturer on our graph. The Greenies were surprised to find out Bangladesh was not one of the highest places considering we had heard so much about the garment factories there.

Gita, Lucy and Phoebe check out our new Band Space map.

To continue our mathematical analysis of the clothing industry, each child chose one country to calculate the incomes of their garment workers. The countries were Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Based on this slightly dated 2010 article, students took the hourly income of a garment worker from these counties and calculated their daily, weekly, monthly and annual income based on a 10-hour day, 7-day-a-week schedule, which we found is a pretty average schedule. We then graphed their monthly incomes. We found that in general, factories in Latin America paid their garment workers much more than those in Asia. A garment worker in Colombia, which was the highest paying country out of the ones we chose, makes about $325.00/month. We compared this to a garment worker in Bangladesh (the lowest) who makes under $50.00/month.

Our poster showing the monthly income of garment workers in our selected countries.

To wrap up our study of garment workers, the Green Band jigsawed articles taken from the Clean Clothes Campaign website. The Clean Clothes Campaign “is a global alliance dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.” The articles we read covered topics such as living wages and severance pay, working hours and overtime, unions, health and safety, and gender discrimination. Students split up these articles, practiced their close-reading, highlighting and note-taking skills, and then presented the most important points of the articles to one another (this is what we call jigsawing.) We learned that while the working conditions for garments workers is often horrendous, the workers and their allies are doing what they can to fight and improve the lives.

Notes on the Clean Clothes Campaign articles.

Cloth & Religious Identity: The Greenies Study Islam

The Green Band’s latest read aloud is “Does My Head Look Big In This?” by Randa Abdel-Fattah. The book tells the story of Amal, an Australian-Palestinian teenager living in Melbourne who decides to start wearing the hijab (“veil”) full-time. As a Muslim, Amal is in the minority at her new school and in her community, and the book, told from her perspective, talks about the ways in which the people around her respond to this very visible symbol of faith. This connection between cloth (the hijab) and identity has lead to a study of Islam in the Band.

While the majority of the Green Band identifies as being secular or atheist, the kids have done an amazing job following our Norms for Talking About Religion. These norms, inspired by this Teaching Tolerance article, allow for respectful and open-minded discussions of religion. For many students, this was the first time learning about religion in an academic setting.

Using a number of Newsela articles (our favorite resource), students studied the history of Islam and Muhammad, the Five Pillars of Islam, the purpose of the hijab, the frequently perceived connection between terrorism and Islam, and the tremendous amount of prejudice that Muslims face on a daily basis. The Green Band also took a visit to the Islamic Society of San Francisco and got to experience what it feels like to be in an urban mosque and learn a little more about the religion from our guide Khaled Ghaleb. We learned that Islamic art doesn’t contain images and consists primarily of geometric shapes and patterns. Students observed individuals coming in and out of the space, and although nobody had been in a mosque before, it was undeniable that everybody felt “peaceful, calm, and quiet.”

Our study of Islam culminated in students doing a short reflection on how their lives connect to the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah- faith, Salat- prayer, Zakat- charity, Sawm- fasting, and Hajj-pilgrimage to Mecca. Students were able to find commonalities between traditions and aspects of their lives and those of the Muslim faith. I am very proud of the work that the Greenies did in our study of Islam!

Weave Been Busy!

It’s hard to believe it’s already the last week of Cloth Exploration! With Expression just around the corner, the Green Band has been busy learning new skills, strengthening old ones, and thinking critically about the role clothing plays in culture and presentation of self. With Aaliyah Hinds as the newest addition to the Band, the Greenies have jumped head first into an exploration of weaving/”looming.”

Greenies work on building their frame looms in the shop.

In addition to finishing up our “uniform” sewing projects, the Greenies were fortunate enough to be visited by a number of professional weavers who taught us how to use various different looms. Tien Chiu, a programer turned professional weaver and friend of Liz’s, came and shared her knowledge of weaving and showed us how to use a floor loom. Travis Meinholf, Sierra’s artist and educator friend, came in and taught a few bands how to backstrap weave, which became a favorite amongst some Greenies. Kate Colwell, a doctor and weaving teacher and friend of Piper’s family, came in to teach an exclusive lesson to the Green Band. She set up a number of table looms and a back-strap loom, and taught the kiddos how to use them and how to bind off. Kate also taught us that there are only two real rules to weaving—put on the warp hard and the weft soft. Many thanks to our weaving experts!

Kate Colwell shows the Green Band how to use a table loom.

Students were given cardboard looms (donated by the generous Indigo Band), on which they practiced weaving techniques. Some kids creatively used rulers as weaving swords and wooden chopsticks as shuttles. Although not the sturdiest, the cardboard looms were used to create weave after weave, with Greenies often choosing to weave during read aloud and quiet time.

Liam and Griffin using rulers and chopsticks to weave on their cardboard looms.

The Greenies then took their passion for [woven] fashion to the shop, where each student created a frame loom using wood, screws, and wire nails. Generally following this how-to, shop-expert Evan lead us in this endeavor. Students each made a different-sized frame loom to fit their needs, Charlotte even made a backpack to carry hers in! With their upgraded looms, Greenies even brought them on our field trip and wove on the bus, impressing and shocking other passengers.

Charlotte, Charlotte’s loom and Aaliyah on the bus to Levi’s.

Project Brightworks: Green Band

The Green Band was *sew* excited to start the Cloth Arc! With a number of seasoned designers, weavers and tailors in the band, the Greenies could not have been more eager to pick up their needles.

The Green Band was so excited to get their travel sewing kits!

For the first few weeks of the Cloth Arc, we have been focusing on what clothes represent. We asked ourselves questions such as “What is my favorite item of clothing and why?” and “What can we learn from looking at someone’s clothes?” We’re currently reading a book, The Education of Margot Sanchez, in which a young girl steals her father’s credit card to buy clothes to fit in at her new school. We’ve come to realize that clothing is a very significant way for people to express themselves. This led us to our first big exploration— we studied the history and tradition of dress codes, the pros and the cons. Students picked one perspective to argue and and a medium to express their persuasive argument. As a band we created a movie, comics, a coding animation and a short essay. Some Greenies challenged themselves by arguing the opposite of their real opinion.

Lucy showing her pro-dress codes comic book.

Greenies also *gathered* together to survey the Brightworks community in order to collect some data and statistics to use in their persuasive argument. As a school with no dress code (except to wear shoes in the shop), the Green Band found that 100% of Brightworks students and staff would like to keep it that way. There was no way to *alter* their opinions. We also discovered that most people find dress codes to be sexist and unfair towards women and transgendered people, and that a majority of BWX students and staff have had a dress code or uniform at a past school.

Piper surveying Magenta-bander Aiden about dress codes.

Because the Green Band was itching to start making something, the Greenies decided to design their own hypothetical Brightworks uniforms. (Funny how nobody wants a dress code or uniform, but everybody wants to design one!) Partially inspired by an episode of “Project Runway: Junior,” students explored the school space to find inspiration for their uniform design. We also brainstormed what we look for in our favorite clothes and what we’d want to put in our uniform. Qualities included durability, breathability, and pockets, obviously!

Greenies creating their designs inspired by the Brightworks Space.

After designing our uniforms on a 9 head figure (used by professionals for fashion), students made patterns of one or two items from their uniform using clothes that they already own. For some of us, this was the first time making a pattern, and we found it involved way more steps than simply tracing your clothing item! We then hit Discount Fabrics, where students had a $20 budget to buy fabric for their item.

Piper, Griffin, Marci and Lucy at Discount Fabrics.

That’s as far as we’ve gotten so far, but stay tuned to find out what happens next on Project Brightworks.

Foundry Day!

Today we wrapped up the Coin Arc by casting our coins! (Demar and Griffin were very missed!) Students got to cast their coins using the Brennans’ foundry outside of 1960 Bryant. Liam’s dad, Matt, taught us a lot about the foundry process, aluminum, the melting points of metals and more. He expertly helped the kids turn their purple styrofoam molds into beautiful shiny silvery “coins.” Below are some pictures of our process!


Step 1- Safety! Matt introduces the foundry to the Green Band.

Step 2- Melting aluminum. Piper puts an aluminum soda can into the foundry. We had to wait for the aluminum to become completely liquid. Aluminum’s melting point is 1220 degrees F.

Step 3- Putting the styrofoam mold into a pot of sand. Matt helps Phoebe fill in the negative space of her mold with sand before burying it in the pot.

Step 4- Pouring the liquid aluminum. Matt transfers the melted aluminum in the crucible to the molds in the sand. When poured, the liquid aluminum will take the place of the styrofoam mold, and the styrofoam will vaporize.

Step 5- Removing the aluminum. Lucy pulls out the now-hardened aluminum mold from the sand and places it in a bucket of water to cool it.

Taa daa! Gita’s cat.

Piper’s initials.

Phoebe’s triton.

Lucy’s penguin.

Charwhal’s N for narwhal.

Liam’s raccoon.

Movies, and foundries and budgets—Oh my!


With only one half-week left of the Coin Arc, Greenies have been busy wrapping up a number of projects. For the past few weeks, students have been planning and filming their History of Money movies, preparing styrofoam casts to be made into aluminum coins in a foundry, and studying the realities of having a minimum wage job in San Francisco.

Gita, Lucy, Charlotte and Demar getting their costumes and props ready for filming.

Based on the book The History of Money: From Bartering to Banking by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura as well as some articles we read on the same subject, Greenies are working in two groups to make short movies about the history of money. Students created a storyboard, wrote a script, planned and created costumes and props, and are now in the throws of filming. Editing is the next step and we will hopefully have a world premiere of our movies for families next week!

Piper delights in watching Liam film Griffin take a walk down the “red carpet.”

Over the summer, Liam and his family built a mini foundry that they’ve been upgrading and modifying in order for the Green Band to make aluminum coins. The actual casting and melting will take place during the last week of our arc, but students have been busy designing their coins and carving their molds. Pulling from the identity work we did earlier in the arc, students started by reflecting and sketching out designs they would want on their coins to represent themselves. Designs were then simplified in order to fit the styrofoam molds and show up when casted. Rachel’s friend Rachel the Artist (and puppy Ozzy) came to BWX with some professional tools to help us carve the styrofoam. Kids got to use a soldering iron and Xacto knives.

Carving their styrofoam molds to make coins.

Our big final project for the Arc has been our study of minimum wage. After listening to a podcast and reading an article on the debate surrounding minimum wage in our state and country, Greenies each picked a minimum-wage profession to role-play for the rest of our Arc. (We have 4 restaurant hosts/hostesses, 1 cashier, 2 home care aides, and a dishwasher.) Many kids were shocked to hear that the average federal income is barely over $7.00. Students write journal entries from the perspective of these workers, research the positions, and next we will calculate their daily, weekly and monthly income and try to create a budget.

With all these new projects coming up, it feels as if the Coin Arc has just flown by. Nonetheless we are super bumped for Cloth! We’ll report back soon.

First Green Band Blog Post!

The Green Band at Clarion Alley.

In the first two weeks of school, the Green Band focused on identity work and getting to know one another! With three new students, a new collaborator and a newly renovated band space, Charlotte, Demarcus, Gita, Griffin, Liam, Lucy, Phoebe, Piper and Rachel tackled different ways of representing our inside and outside selves.

Some Identity Icebergs.

For one of these exercises we created Identity Icebergs, in which the surface of the iceberg shows what one can see on the outside (brown hair, nose ring, tattoos—don’t worry, that one is Rachel’s), and below the surface we wrote traits you would only know if you got to know us (lives alone, scared of the dark, stubborn).

Rachel Marino helping Green Band organize their mural.

To prepare for our collaborative band mural, we took a walk to Clarion Alley in the Mission and studied some of the different murals. After doing a few more identity activities, we each came up with our own image or symbol to embody our interests, strengths and personalities. These images will make up our band mural. For technical support, we got some help from Rachel’s artist friend, Rachel (with puppy Ozzy.)

We hope you enjoyed our first blog post! More to come soon.