Yazmin Palacios models a dress fashioned from old newspapers and ribbon… (Bethany Mollenkof, Los…)
As one model powdered her face with some last-minute blush and another frantically tried to perfect her catwalk strut, a thin girl donning a tight, black trash bag started to panic backstage.
Mariah Reyes, one of the student designers, rushed over to comfort her jittery classmate.
"Four-second inhale, four-second exhale," Reyes said. "Remember, you look fabulous."
The Franklin High School sophomore had started counting the days until her school's Eco-Friendly Fashion Show weeks before it happened. Not only would it help raise awareness about one of her passions — recycling — but it would let her showcase some of her clothing designs.
There was Plastic Tactic, the short, puffy dress made entirely of Fresh & Easy grocery bags; Eco Paperlicious, a longer, pleated dress made of strips of newspaper; and Checkerbox Beauty, a form-fitting, strapless dress made of red-and-white checkered school snack boxes.
The school's Dream Project Club — a group dedicated to finding solutions for global problems — held the fashion show recently to raise awareness about environmental sustainability and to raise money for Superstorm Sandy victims. They asked each attendee to donate a dollar and made about $120.
In early 2008, riding the high of President Obama's first campaign, freshman health and life skills teacher Melinda Conde started searching for a way to facilitate change in the classroom. About this time, she met Kelly Sullivan Walden, the daughter of a teacher, who had created the kind of program Conde wanted to try.
After attending a United Nations conference six years ago, Walden designed a project that asks students to envision themselves as ambassadors tackling global issues.
The program, dubbed the Dream Project, focuses on eight goals the U.N. is striving to achieve by 2015. They include eradicating extreme hunger, promoting gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Celerity Educational Group, which operates eight charter schools in the area, adapted Walden's program into a curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade.
At Franklin, Conde intertwines elements of the program into her freshman health lessons and leads the school's Dream Project Club, which started after a group of sophomores wanted a venue to continue working toward the goals they had set during her class.
Sophomore club member Remmy Seleuco, for example, is always on the lookout for ways to recycle.
When she overheard her younger brother mention throwing away a box of Yu-Gi-Oh cards, she stepped in. "I said, 'Hold up. Whoa,' " she recalled, through a proud smirk.
She salvaged the cards, taped several strips of them together into a corset and combined them with a puffy skirt made of a trash bag, which her friend modeled at the fashion show.
The small club is working to inform the student body.
At a recent club meeting, for example, members cut up strips of paper with facts to tack up around campus the week before the show. One read: "Most families throw away about 40 kg of plastic a year."
As Reyes glued together loops of magazine strips that would create a chain to decorate the sides of the runway, the club's vice president divvied up who would bring snacks to the show.
"What do you guys think about drinks?" Jenny Huang asked. "Just water?"
A girl in the front row shook her head and interjected: "If we do that, you can't do bottles."
Several students nodded in agreement.
"Instead of handing out water bottles, cause that's not very eco-friendly," Huang said, "we could get a metal canteen and fill up cups."
They ended up serving soy milk, a blended rice drink and almond milk — all in cups, of course — with seaweed and cupcakes.
Before the show, in the dimly lit locker room next to the auxiliary gym, Reyes began to stress. "Where are my models?" she asked.
A doe-eyed brunet rushed over. Reyes hugged Pamela Molina and then helped her into Plastic Tactic — the dress made of grocery bags.
"Can you breathe?" Reyes asked, as she cinched the red ribbon holding the bags together around Molina's waist.
Molina nodded and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She twirled around and the plastic bags wafted up from her waist.
"I think I found my winter formal dress," she said, through a smile.