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Pointed Lessons: Students Wielding Needles to Comfort AIDS Orphans
By Chris Gullick - Staff Writer
Chico Enterprise Record - Chico, CA on April 14, 2008

ORLAND -- Stitch by stitch, row by row, teddy bears are being born in an Orland classroom.
Tuesday afternoon, students at C.K. Price Middle School began to learn to knit, with the intention of making teddy bears to be sent to children in Africa who have been orphaned by AIDS.

Needles clacked and yarn tangled, as sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the Gifted and Talented Education after-school program tried their hands at the stitching, under the direction of science teacher Jan Mathews and GATE teacher Susan Squyres-McNally.

Mathews demonstrated the technique using a camera that projected her hand motions onto an overhead screen.

"You guys are doing something little ... to do something really big," she told the students, and explained how Mother Bear Project gathered hand-knitted teddy bears to ship them overseas.

So far, she added, 24,300 teddy bears have been made and sent.

McNally said her students had been talking about the issues in Africa, such as the war in Darfur and the AIDS epidemic, and Mathews suggested they contribute to the Mother Bear Project, which she read about in the book "Knitting for Peace."

Mathews volunteered to help McNally teach the students and the project was launched.

"This gives them an opportunity to help outside their community and to create for someone else," McNally said. "These are children who are well-read, and concerned about issues and about the environment."

Sixth-grader Theresa Oakley, 11, concentrated on manipulating the yarn for what would be a teddy bear's leg, frowning at her work.

She said she read about AIDS in newspapers and magazines and wanted to help in some way.

"I feel sorry for those kids in Africa," said Amy Madden, 12.

Mathews and McNally moved around the room, encouraging the students and starting a few over when they snarled the first rows beyond repair.

Learning to knit is valuable for reasons besides encouraging generosity, McNally said.

It promotes brain development and critical thinking, and it moves the students outside their comfort zone. This group is used to having things come easily to them, but they were all struggling with the coordination demanded from two longs needles and a ball of yarn.

Mathews told the students they could take the projects home, or just work on them at school. She passed out two-page instructions, complete with diagrams and photographs for those who wanted to take the bears home.

Eighth-grader Kaila Sahr, 13, handed her needles to Mathews and wondered what she had done wrong.

Mathews unraveled the yarn and set up the project for Kaila to start over.

That's part of learning, Mathews told her, and Kaila took it home to try again.

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