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'A great Christmas present:' Students make blankets, scarves for the homeless

Central Elementary School fourth graders, from left, Aydan May, Marcus Boe and Xavier Frazier work together after school to make tie blankets to be donated to the SOS program. (Monte Draper / Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI, Minn. - Ten-year-old Marcus Boe wonders if he should take his blanket for a "test drive."

Marcus, one of several Central Elementary students in Bemidji making no-sew, or tie, blankets to be donated next month to the homeless, wants to be sure his is going to be warm enough for those who will receive it.

"I want it to be warm," Marcus said.

The tie blanket project started with fourth-graders enrolled in Bemidji Area School's 21st Century Program, an after-school program that provides enrichment for students for two hours after the end of the school day.

Teacher Jill Menke, who works with the program, said she challenged the students to think about Christmas beyond the knee-jerk reaction of, "What are you getting me?"

"Christmas isn't about getting presents, it's about giving," Menke said.

It was Mya McKinnon, 10, who tossed out the idea of blankets for the homeless.

"We were just all sitting here, making a list and just throwing out ideas," Mya said.

The students, who have now partnered with fifth-graders to complete the project, hope to donate 10 blankets and 20 scarves to the Servants of Shelter, a program that provides the homeless overnight shelter at participating churches in the winter months.

"This will be a great Christmas present," said Henry Sewall, 9.

The students walked to Ben Franklin in downtown Bemidji earlier this month, selecting themselves the fabrics and materials they would work with.

When asked, they all agreed they had no preference in whether their blankets are received by adults or children.

"I don't care, just as long as they're warm enough," said Natasha Smith, 9.

"As long as they like it," Mya said.

21st Century is designed to offer programming that compliment students' learning without utilizing an in-classroom experience. For this project, students furthered their academic lessons in multiple ways: writing letters to Community Education to request funding; doing math to figure out how much material they would need for each blanket, each scarf, and how much that would be in total; calculating the costs; and designing the layouts.

"It's actually been a lot of fun," Henry said.

But he, like all the other students, stressed that while the process of making the blankets itself has been enjoyable, the best part will be donating them.

"I'm just excited to be giving them away, that they're going to people who need them," Mya said.