SOLON — For the last month, Andrea Velásquez, a seventh grade language and social studies teacher at Solon Middle School, has had her classes in stitches, literally.
In January, her students knit almost 100 scarves for second-graders at Jackson Elementary School in Des Moines.
“As a teacher,” she said, “I feel like my job is to teach them to be part of the community. That means community service.”
Velásquez, who has had her students participate in a service project each year since 2004, isn’t a knitting expert herself, but a book she received in response to one of her first projects prompted her to learn.
“I couldn’t do a pattern. I couldn’t do mittens. That’s what I teach them, a basic scarf,” Velásquez said.
This year, Velásquez wanted to send handmade scarves to students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., who are still recovering from the December 2012 shooting on their campus.
Then one of her students mentioned reports that the school was inundated with donations, Velásquez reached out to a friend and second grade teacher in Des Moines.
“I wanted it to still be the connection of the school children,” Velásquez said.
The result has been an unprecedented level of participation, with older students and staff members also picking up knitting needles for the project.
“I really wanted to do it because they’re little kids and I really wanted to help them,” said Alex Stanley, 13.
Students have already decorated a giant box to package the scarves in for their journey to Des Moines. They plan to ship the gifts on Friday.
In the past, students have been reluctant to participate and Velásquez struggled to get equal numbers of boys and girls. This year, though, she said the ratio is almost even.
“Usually it’s hard to get the sports guys to do it unless you have a couple leaders,” she said. “This class has really good leadership.”
Ely Kleinsmith, 13, of Solon, said knitting was “a lot easier” than he thought it would be.
“I wasn’t gung ho at first, but then I saw it was really easy,” said the seventh-grader. “Once you start, it goes by pretty quick.”
Students largely furnished their own supplies for the scarves and knitted on their own time, with some using class read aloud time, study hall, lunchtime or free minutes after finishing tests or coursework.
They could have spent less buying scarves from the store, but Velásquez said doing so would have missed the point.
“That’s not as neat as receiving a homemade gift that somebody made for you,” she said. “Time is the whole thing … For them to fit this into their schedule is pretty big of them.”