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West Patent Students Knit for a Cause

students wear hats knit during Knitting with Friends club at WPES

Who knew that knitting something as simple as a hat could bring people together from opposite sides of the country, teach elementary students about kindness and perseverance, and ignite a community-wide effort to help those affected by last year’s Paradise Fire in California?

That is exactly what has happened at West Patent Elementary School, where school nurse Maria Reino’s break-time hobby spurred the creation of a knitting club, which, in turn, grew into a service project.

“Our Knitting for Friends service learning project is really about kindness, caring, empathy, friendship, teamwork and community building,” said Margaret Rose Goodman, an elementary consulting teacher and one of the group’s advisors. “It is children reaching out to other children, students learning how they can make this world a better place through their actions, and an entire learning community working together.”

The idea for the group started when students showed an interest in school nurse Reino’s knitting, which she did for 20 minutes each day in lieu of lunch. “I was making a cardigan at the time and I would show them. That led to more and more interest,” she said.

To create the club, Reino teamed up with Goodman and Kelly Smith, secretary to the principal.

“We thought we’d see if we got any responses,” Reino said. “We ended up with a waitlist.”

Next, they paired the club with the school’s character education committee for kids, the KIIT (Kids In It Together) Committee, which encourages community service.

After creating a character education quilt as a launch project, the group turned its attentions to Paradise Unified School District in northern California. Last year, West Patent students donated gently used books to the Paradise schools to help replenish libraries after the wildfire that destroyed much of the area.

“Staff and students are now back on school campuses in Paradise and Magalia, CA, having overcome many of the challenges they faced,” Goodman said. “We thought it would be lovely to have our students knit hats for Paradise students as a gesture of kindness and friendship. The Paradise students couldn’t believe we were still thinking of them.”

WPES Knitting for Friends club in action

The Knitting Begins in Earnest

Last spring, West Patent students began working on their first hats as a preparation for their current mission: knitting hundreds of hats for the students in Paradise.

“Our realistic goal is 250 hats,” said Smith. “Our ideal goal is to have a hat for every child in the district, which is more than 750.”

To increase their chances of success, the Knitting for Friends Club reached out to the larger community.

Felicia Lonigro of Pick Up Every Stitch in Mount Kisco has been incredibly helpful, donating what Reino called “thousands of dollars of yarn” and knitting needles and even coming in to speak to the students.

Local knitting groups have also gotten involved, with donations coming from the Bedford Free Library, parents, grandparents, and relatives as far away as Florida and Chicago. Teachers and administrators have joined the group as well and they have enlisted help from knitting clubs at SUNY Geneseo, UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

The club has truly become a community-building project, with its effects felt most intimately at West Patent.

“We love the connecting we’re doing with the kids on a non-classroom level,” said Smith.

Reino added, “They ask us about our childhood. They want stories. It’s really, really sweet.”

“It’s lovely that they get to see us in a different light,” said Goodman. “In here they’re still respectful, but we get to have a little fun in a different way. We share stories and joke.”

Students have come a long way since their first project.

“They are soaring,” said Reino. “Some of them knit a hat a week.”

Smith loves to sit back and watch them help each other without any prompting from the adults in the room. “It’s been really fun to see them team together and support each other,” she said.

students knit hats for kids in Paradise, California

Students Embrace the Craft

The students love the club, which currently has 16 fifth graders, four fourth graders, and nine third graders. The group is able to be so large because students are so eager to help one another. Some students were interested in knitting because they had seen their moms or grandmas doing it and were curious. Others wanted to try something new.

“My grandma knits and my mom knows how to knit,” said Madeline, a fifth grader. “I wanted to learn because I thought it could fill my time. I’m always so bored after homework and I thought it would be fun to learn. Eventually, I can do my own things.”

Madeline and her classmates find knitting very relaxing. Some do it before bed to unwind a bit before going to sleep.

“You kind of just let go of everything else and calm down,” she explained. “I don’t think about anything when I’m knitting.”

There is also an added bonus for this project.

“It feels good because we’re helping people,” said Dalia, also a fifth grader.

Goodman also pointed out that students are learning important life skills along the way.

“They learn to problem solve,” she said. “They’ll say ‘I think I have a split stitch here or I dropped a stitch — how do I figure this out?’ They are learning perseverance. If you make a mistake, you have to rip it. That is a great way to learn patience and the growth mindset. There is math woven into it, they have to learn the language too. It’s really one of the highlights of our week.”

To reach its goal, the club would love help from the community. They are accepting hats of any pattern made with quality yarn. They also could use funds.

“We would love to put a canvas tag on the hats to symbolize our school and the Paradise district,” said Reino. “We have the help to get them sewn, but we need the funds to buy the tags.”

Hats can be dropped off at Pick Up Every Stitch, the Bedford Free Library c/o Margaret Scott or sent into West Patent Elementary School if you have a family member who attends the school. For more information, you can contact Maria Reino: mreino2012@bcsdny.org Kelly Smith: ksmith4472@bcsdny.org or Margaret Rose Goodman: mgoodman2360@bcsdny.org. You can also call 914-666-2190.

sample hats in the halls of WPES