Connecting with Students One Stitch at a Time
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean smart boards, computers, or the latest tech gadgets. It can be as basic as needle and yarn, along with a desire to weave success into students’ academic lives.
Many of the students attending Roberts High School have been expelled from the district’s traditional schools, often for behavior issues. They find an academic home and a welcoming attitude at Roberts, an alternative school in the Salem-Keizer School District in Oregon.
One teacher with a mean cable stitch found a somewhat unorthodox way to connect with her students—she teaches them to knit.
“We had students who were a little more difficult behaviorally,” said Ranada Young, an English language development specialist who teaches English Language Learners. “I sometimes have a hard time staying focused, and since knitting has always helped me, I thought maybe it could help my students, too.”
So Young volunteered to pilot a knitting program. Pooling donations from other teachers and calling in favors from her family and friends, Young was able to build a treasure trove of yarn, hooks, looms and needles for students.
“I’m constantly looking for a way to connect with the kids, so I thought we might have something here. We all went, ‘huh,’” said Young, who was surprised at how appealing knitting was to her students—even the boys. “You can watch their brains calm down, and it’s been a huge transformation.”
It’s that out-of-the-box approach to education that has helped students soar at Roberts. As a result of this creative idea, behavior incidents in Young’s class have dropped sharply, and her students started paying attention in class. For some students, test scores were even going up.
“I was always in class but never did the work,” said Andrew Sosa, a junior who spent two semesters at Roberts before transferring back to his traditional high school. Sosa credits Young’s knitting classes to turning his failing grades into A’s and B’s.
Sosa smiled. “When you do the work, class goes by a lot quicker.”
Young’s innovative thinking of how to connect with her students is the type of work getting attention through the National Education Association’s Priority Schools Campaign, a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort mandated by NEA’s Representative Assembly to provide intensive support to help transform low-performing schools across the nation.
Although the program helps students cultivate emotional self-control through knitting, the initial motivation for students to get involved in Young’s knitting class was that the hours spent knitting and purling would count as part of community service requirements for graduation.
The knitting program became so popular that hats, scarves, mittens and other knitwear started piling up.
“I feel like I work in a yarn shop, which is a good thing,” said Young, laughing.
As a result, the group decided to donate their handiwork to a teenage pregnancy program and a local homeless shelter. It’s a win-win situation: students are learning to tackle their behavioral issues, often the first step to improving achievement, and they are contributing to the community.
“We’re teaching students empathy and compassion,” added Young. “That’s not an easy thing to teach.”
Alonso Correa, a sophomore at Roberts, agreed that the knitting program has had a positive impact on his academic studies.
“I felt pretty good because I finished making hats for the babies and my family,” said Correa. “I had never made them anything before. It makes me want to do more.”