By MICHAEL PUFFER, The Republican-American of Waterbury
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) _ After lunch, about a dozen fourth- and fifth-grade students can be found in Michele Brittingham’s classroom at Barnard Elementary School pulling out wooden knitting needles and getting to work.
Fourth-graders Kourtne Johnson, Madison Turner and Herta Sufka sat around a table, knotting and looping blue, purple and pink yarn into growing strips of fabric that will eventually become scarves. The children laughed and chirped as they worked.
“Before, you said, ‘I can’t do this!”’ Herta, 10, told Kourtne.
“At first it was hard, now I can do it,” Kourtne said, laughing in return.
Brittingham said the knitting program has been a great confidence builder and stress reliever for fourth- and fifth-graders at the school for several years now.
Boys and girls sign up at the beginning of the year. They knit before school. At lunch and after school. Anytime they can get together. Some students take work home. One girl who was out sick Thursday added a couple of feet to her scarf from home.
“It’s fun to know how to do something that most of your family doesn’t know how to do,” said Jadira DePaula, 10. She’s one of the more advanced students. She wore a finished scarf around her neck Friday and was knitting a purse with a finer pair of plastic needles on loan from Brittingham.
“They are so proud of these scarves,” Brittingham said.
“Jadira’s been wearing that scarf for four days.”
The program started several years ago with fourth-grade teacher Suzanne Jokabaitis, who has been retired for two years. Brittingham saw her colleague pulling together small knitting circles five years ago, and decided to teach herself how to knit. The program has interested varying numbers of students over the years. Sometimes just a handful. Two years ago there were 20.
The knitting program has run on virtually no budget. Teachers bought many of the supplies. Much of the yarn has been donated. One year, Brittingham made knitting needles for the children, filing down wooden dowel rods and using beads as end caps. This year has been different, thanks to a $1,200 grant through the Margaret M. Generali Foundation.
Generali was a popular city principal who died of a brain aneurysm in 1999. The grant given to Barnard was made in memory of Dina Generali Kieper.
It has paid for knitting kits for 37 students, including their own needles, bags and yarns.
The grant also paid for a small library of knitting-related books. There are some “how-to” books, and there are also knitting-related stories. Students in the program also keep a journal.
With the Connecticut Mastery Tests coming up, Brittingham says knitting will act as a good pressure valve for participating students.
“School’s stressful,” Brittingham said. “We’re teaching them a lot. It’s constant. So I think the break to sit and knit _ you have to concentrate _ kind of blanks out your mind.”
Information from: The Republican-American of Waterbury, http://www.rep-am.com/
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)