July 22, 2024

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Collins leaving MHS fashion design program after 46 years

All sewn up: Collins leaving MHS fashion design program after 46 years
Roberta Garcia-Collins shows a shirt in the making at her fashion design class at Marlborough High School. Collins is retiring after 46 years.

MARLBOROUGH – Mrs. Collins is about to sew her last hemline.

After more than four decades guiding students in how to turn fabrics into clothing, Roberta Garcia-Collins is retiring as Marlborough High’s fashion design teacher.

“Roberta Collins has positively impacted the lives of thousands of students during her 46-year tenure at MHS. To say she is a teaching legend would be an understatement,” said MHS Principal Daniel Riley.

Since the 1980s days of big shoulder pads and bigger hair, Collins – Mrs. Collins to her students – has helped students run up wardrobes of almost every shape and size, from dresses to blazers.

The work space: two classrooms that abut the school’s main entrance. One room is used to draft designs, store fabric swatches and sewing machines; the other room is used to build and store the clothing.

Collins showed a blazer close to being completed; she pointed out the heavy fabric (like so much other material it was donated to the class), the way it was sewn, the work still needed before it’s done.

Nearby, dressmaker dummies displayed other projects in progress, including a striped shirt, dress and blazer.

In the class, which runs for the entire school year (instead of semesters), students “touch base with everything,” Collins said.

Sewing is “all about math and science,” said Collins, from measuring fabrics to how fabrics react to certain cuts.

“It’s a great thing to learn,” she said.

Most of her students come in with no prior experience in sewing; over the course of the year “they get the confidence. They learn the fashion,” said Collins.

The evidence is apparent – dozens of photos of past and present students line the storage closets. They are shown with their creations. The photos are taken by their fashion classmates – another aspect of learning about fashion, she said.

Just outside the classroom, there’s a display case highlighting the program’s students of the month.

“Their parents are so proud,” she said.

Some students even offer a hemming service for faculty and staff during the year, for a nominal fee.

All sewn up: Collins leaving MHS fashion design program after 46 years
Students in Marlborough High’s fashion design class learn all aspects, from design and sewing to fabrics. Here, Roberta Garcia-Collins shows a design, complete with a swatch.

Fashioning a career

Collins, a Marlborough High graduate, began her career in 1978 as part of the Excellence Based Career Education program.

“I worked with students who didn’t want to be in school,” she said.

After two years with EBCE, Collins learned that sewing teacher Anita Fox was retiring, and she decided to apply for the position. She got the job that she would keep for the next 44 years.

She said she kept in touch with Fox after she retired, sending her a VHS tape of the fashion show each year.

Although Fox has since died, Collins said that whenever students would mess up a project “the ghost of Mrs. Fox” would take the blame.

Students learn that “messing up” is part of the process.

“There’s no judgment here,” said Collins. “It’s a real welcoming community.”

There is one thing that’s not welcome – swearing.

“You’re here to be classy,” Collins would tell her students.

She also emphasizes the need for teamwork among the students.

“I’m here to help them, but I don’t work for them,” she said.

She said the fashion design program has grown to be “one of the biggest in the state,” with students actively recruited by college-level programs from across the country.

Fashion show

Of course, the students get to show off their creations at one of the high school’s oldest traditions – the annual fashion show.

“This is a community event,” said Collins. “There’s definite proof that we do good work here.”

On May 1, as part of the annual show, alumni, students and staff surprised Collins. She received a citation from Mayor J. Christian Dumais; many of her former students showed up in the clothing made at her class.

Down the catwalk one more time

As she places her final pins on her career at Marlborough High, Collins said she is grateful for the support from the community.

Once she begins her retirement, Collins plans to ride her boogie board, dance and keep in touch with her hundreds of students.

“It’s nice to have lifelong connections,” she said.

Her successor, Tarra Walker, is one of Collins’ former students. She is currently a digital arts teacher at Whitcomb Middle School.

There may or may not be a “ghost of Mrs. Collins” in these classrooms, but her presence will be felt for years to come.

“Through the years she has never lost her passion for helping young people reach their goals and pursue their dreams. So many students come back after graduation and express their appreciation for everything she’s poured into them. She does it all for the kids and can never truly be replaced,” said Riley.

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