“I want people to see the dress, but focus on the woman.” —Vera Wang

How many times have we noticed our kids rummaging through the dress up bin to create their own ideas of fashion, or noticed that Dad’s favorite dress shirt suddenly has taken on a new life with a pair of scissors and a few stitches?

Notre Dame Prep School has created an engaging, real-world experience for their middle level students that combines upcycling and Project Runway: the “Middle Made Design Challenge.”

This annual event involves 20 middle school student teams that are challenged to create dresses from recycled materials inspired by a theme. Dresses are presented in February in a runway fashion show and are critiqued by professionals in the fashion industry. Students are given a chance to discuss the process in the on-campus news studio, and the top three dresses are placed on display for the school to observe for the following school year.

This year’s projects were all based on the theme of “Spreading Kindness.”

NDP Middle Made Design Challenge

Pieces submitted this year had titles like “Sisterhood in Bloom” and  “Following Love.” The age-appropriate dresses were all created by the students in their free time from recycled materials like items from parents’ closets, things from the recycling bin, or leftover Christmas lights. The girls got advice from family, community members, and teachers on their designs before presenting them in the runway show (complete with lights and adoring fans!).

“When I woke up on the morning of the Design Challenge, I was a little nervous,” said Design participant and student Anna Bowers. “When I got to school, my teacher, Ms. Leitch, helped me with the final touches, and once I saw my design go down the runway, there was so much love in the room. I heard shouts of ‘YAS QUEEN!’ and the fear just melted away!”

NDP Middle Made Design Challenge NDP Middle Made Design Challenge NDP Middle Made Design Challenge

The feeling of love and respect that the students and teachers share throughout this project are evident. What does Christian Leitch, Middle Level Art Teacher, love most about the challenge? Seeing the girls grow through the process and fully embracing the challenge — while having fun together.

“There are no grades for this, or grand prizes,” said Ms. Leitch. “The girls are held to high standards. I tell them each day how much I value their respect for the project and for each other, and I’m so proud of each of them. I see my students becoming confident and proud, and I see them building work ethic with their God-given passions and talents.”

The challenge isn’t just about the design. Girls are involved in all aspects of the fashion show as well. They serve as emcees, videographers, designers, models, and studio producers. No matter what their part in the challenge, there is a certain pride and excitement that comes from being a part of the community that creates the final product.

“I truly feel like everyone around here cares,” said student and Design participant Aanya Chawla. “We’ve become so close to our friends and our teachers through the project. We’ve come together to produce this great show, and watching the community embrace us, and all that we’ve accomplished — it’s really a loving event, and it really gives us something to be proud of. I really feel like all of the opportunities and support that we’re given really sets us up to spread our wings.”

The Design Challenge this year took place on Friday, February 15th, and the top three designs will be on display at NDP next month through next February. Might we say, Vera Wang would be proud!

This article is sponsored by Notre Dame Prep, as part of our s(cool) partner series. Learn more about them in our independent school directory. Photography provided by NDP.