December 22, 2015

Hats and scarves knitted by youth in the Assessment and Evaluation program.

The Donald E. Long School/Incarcerated Youth program oversees the education of all youth in the Donald E. Long home, including youth participating in the Assessment and Evaluation (A&E) program. The A&E program is a short term, voluntary residential program designed to provide structure, stabilization, and treatment readiness. Together, Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) and DCJ staff are continuously coming up with creative ways to keep the youth engaged, educated, and moving forward toward positive change. Service learning is incorporated in the curriculum and gives students applied arts credit.

Scott Ryan, Vice Principal, wanted to use service learning to engage the students in giving back to the community. He enlisted the help of his special education teacher, Patty Coble, and they came up with the idea to do a project in which students in the A&E program knitted hats and scarves for students in the MESD Migrant Education program. The program aims to ensure that migratory children who move among the states are not penalized in any matter by disparities in curriculum, graduation, content, and achievement standards. Every year, MESD employees donate targeted food items to the MESD Migrant Education’s 500+ students and their families, but the knitted items fulfill a need not covered by SNAP and other safety net programs.

Dennis Moore and Rosa Garcia, managers of the A&E program, liked the idea and let staff run with it. “Our job was to just get out of the way,” Dennis said, “this project was driven by people working with the kids day-to-day and the creative thinking of everyone [involved].”

Everyone, boys and girls alike, participated. An alternative writing assignment was offered, but all of the students ended up choosing to knit. Patty began offering time to knit in exchange for completed math assignments. For the first time ever, all of the students completed their math assignments with time left to spare to work on their knitting. “It was a wonderful experience,” says Tracy Brown, an educational assistant in the program, “It was such a sense of accomplishment for these guys to start something, be able to finish it, and to get help when they needed it.”

In total, the students knitted over 130 items for the Migrant Education program. That’s about eight items from every youth in just under two weeks. Students meticulously designed and created items they felt the recipients would enjoy, which led to increased demand for specific colors and types of yarn. Due to a lack of budget for this project, everyone had to work together to get creative. Teachers engaged the students in thinking about where they could acquire more materials, which led to community engagement by way of reaching out to businesses like Goodwill and Deseret Industries.

When the service learning project was over, the knitting continued. Students made hats and scarves for themselves, their family, their friends. They began designing and creating leg warmers and hand warmers. The activity spilled over into their recreation time and was a topic of conversation throughout their day.

“They now have a skill and a frame of reference to go back and do the practical application,” Scott says. Knitting utilizes creative thinking and develops problem solving skills. It requires algebra, geometry, and artistic skill, and provides a practical application for the things the youth are learning in other areas of school.  

Looking to the future, Scott plans to expand the program to other sites within MESD. He sees potential for a greater impact on both the community and the students. By engaging the community and sharing where these items are coming from, barriers can be broken and a greater understanding of who these kids are can develop. “At the end of the day, they’re just teenagers,” says Dennis, “they have life circumstances or [a lack of] coping skills that are challenging, but they’re just kids.”