It's 11:45am on the dot. A hallway bell rings. Students all over my high school pick up their books, pencils, purses and cell phones and head to the next classroom. Yet, at the high school I work at, Susquehanna Township High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 14 students pick up their phones and books and head to room 128.
These 14 students are no different than any of the other students in the building. They take classes such as Math, Biology and History. They love their cell phones and have Instagram accounts, they listen to Lady Gaga or KPop or David Guetta, and they are always hungry and complain about homework. But they also have dreams that are being met right now as opposed to making them now and realizing them later. These 14 students are 9th - 12th graders in the School of Fashion and Design. These 14 students spend half their day in a classroom filled with sewing machines, bolts of fabric, body forms and their futures.
Three years ago, a local couture designer was asked to do what he does with high school students. Richard Andries of Richard Andries Couture in Camp Hill, PA has made suits and gowns for dignitaries all over the country. He single-handedly takes on the production of costumes for a high school's musical every year. Yet, he now finds himself in a public high school classroom on a weekly basis with students who want to do what he has been doing for years. Through his hands-on directives from large class instruction to individualized attention to meet their needs, Richard Andries is developing the next Alexander Wang or Oscar de la Renta in room 128 on a daily basis. Richard sees potential in each and every one of his students. He has produced results with a handful already at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, the University of Philadelphia and even West Point for military design. He is making miracles happen for these kids.
Richard's students have troubles. If he did not show them what they could do with needle and thread, many would likely not still be in school. He does not just teach them how to sew; he teaches them how to live life. He preaches to them, shares life lessons, convinces them their situation could always be worse. He himself has struggled, has seen life at its worst, has hit the bottom, but he never gives up. First and foremost, he tells these kids to never give up. "Keep trying. Try again. Someone else's situation is always worse than yours."
Room 128 has an eclectic mix of students. Some of them are shy, focused, keep to themselves. A few are flamboyant or just plain loud. Allow me to highlight a few. Arnaud is from a small country in Africa, yet found himself in the States a few years ago. He came not knowing anyone, spoke a different language and was thrown in to a public high school environment. It was by chance that Arnaud found himself in the fashion design class, a small interest, yet he is now on his way to becoming the next Zac Posen or Oscar de la Renta. He lives and breathes fashion. His gowns are runway worthy. His edgy, yet sleek lines are glamorous and offers have been made for this teenager's creations.
Nick is a local in our district, raised in Harrisburg, PA, and I've known him since the ripe young age of 12. Even then, he dressed well. He knew how to wear jeans and sneakers the right way. Now, he has the beginnings of an Alexander Wang-type line, black and detailed, risqué yet classy. Nick began with Mr. Andries as a sophomore with Arnaud and a somewhat-known junior named Luis.
Luis has already completed a year at FIT, where he was head of the class after coming in with his previous knowledge and already endearing love for the craft. This previous knowledge he acquired in room 128. His fashions have already created a stir winning him Golden Keys at the Scholastic Arts Festival along with the recognition of his professors and Instagram followers.
Now, for the beauty, Kyrsten. Kyrsten has one year left with Mr. Andries before moving on to such a prestigious school as Parsons to hopefully end up in Paris, France. Kyrsten is delicate, dainty, creating beautiful gowns, sweet children's clothes and even a spring line of soft jerseys and mute colors. She is quiet, reserved and has an obsession with Marie Antoinette and Versailles, but do not pass her by. She will be the first four-year student of Mr. Andries and thus will have the ability to show FIT or Parson's that much more than anyone else has been able to so far. Never underestimate her sweet demeanor, as she will go and get what she wants. Nothing will stop her. I have personally had the pleasure of her in my own French classroom. I would do anything possible to help this girl.
The younger students in the school are just starting to realize their dreams. Jehmale was a loner type. He always looked good and did things with clothes or wore clothes others might not. He finally "found himself" after becoming a student of Mr. Andries in the School of Fashion and Design this past year as a sophomore. This once quiet child is becoming a young man, learning his craft, excelling beyond imagination in the short year he has been with Mr. Andries. He adores the Korean look; samurai pants and tunics, flashy embellishments with over-the-top detail. Where Mr. Andries has a very classic look when he designs his women's suits or gowns; he allows students like Jehmale to let their imaginations run wild.
I have faith in these students. They will get somewhere with their lives, with their dreams. Every day, they are held accountable for what they must do to succeed, whether it be within room 128 or not. I consider myself to be truly privileged and blessed to have been a part of this classroom this past year. I saw them begin the year prepping for SAT's and drawing portfolios. Now I see more going off to FIT, applying to Parsons, seeing their futures realized. These students already have their feet in the door with what they have had the privilege of being a part of thus far. I don't need to wish them luck; their futures have already begun and they are bright.