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With blankets, Atholton fourth graders learn to help others in Howard County

Large pieces of fleece in bright colors with designs of doughnuts, penguins, rainbows, hearts, flowers, polka dots, animals and geometric shapes took over Atholton Elementary School’s cafeteria one day last week.

Atholton Elementary’s three fourth-grade classes, about 84 students, were eagerly looking at two large pieces of fleece in front of them, patiently waiting to tie them together to create no-sew blankets.

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“We have worked so hard to get to this point. Are you excited?” asked Ashlee Hoffman, the fourth-grade instructional team leader at Atholton Elementary.

The entire fourth-grade class answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

The 50 blankets made by the fourth graders are being donated to Project Linus. The national nonprofit provides free blankets to children who are seriously ill or experiencing trauma in their lives, according to its website.

Matthias Folks, 10, a student in Christine Park’s class, said the project changed his perspective on things. He learned even “small things can make a difference in someone’s life.”

“I enjoyed that even though this is such a small thing and [each blanket is] only for one person. I’m helping them stay warm at night,” Matthias said. “Little things can make a difference; it doesn’t have to be a big thing.”

The project kicked off during Atholton Elementary’s Kindness Week at the end of January, taking about a month to complete.

After seeing a fellow teacher out of state post on Facebook that her students had made blankets, Hoffman immediately wanted to do the same at Atholton Elementary.

Over a weekend in January, Hoffman texted a few co-workers and by Feb. 17 they had pooled enough money from their reimbursable PTA funds to get the supplies.

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Besides teachers pairing blankets for tying — with a design on one side and a splash of color on the other — the students did the rest. In groups of three, the students followed along a stencil made by staff to cut the strips on every side of each blanket. Then, on Feb. 18, the entire grade came together and tied blankets with a partner.

“I think it was a great idea to have them do it from start to finish,” Hoffman said.

When teaching her students about being kind and generous, Hoffman said the project made “a world of difference” that the students were making blankets for local children.

Project Linus’ Annapolis Maryland Chapter serves Howard and Anne Arundel counties, according to Linda Gorman, chapter coordinator. All of Atholton Elementary’s blankets will benefit children in Howard County.

“The impact is wonderful” when a child is making a blanket for another child, Gorman said.

“Every now and then we receive a thank you and many messages have said, ‘It was so much more meaningful that another child made it,’ ” Gorman said.

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Her chapter receives blankets of all styles, including the no-sew, but also quilts and knitted and crocheted ones.

Nine-year-old Claudia Tobon’s favorite part of the project was helping people she didn’t necessarily know.

“Not everyone has as much as you do; you never know who doesn’t have enough food or care that they need,” said Claudia, a student in Hoffman’s class.

In March, the blankets are being dropped off at the Jo-Ann fabrics store in Columbia before being distributed by Project Linus. Students are able to help drop off the blankets if they have a parent or guardian provide transportation.

“What they did was super important,” Hoffman said. “I wanted our fourth graders to know they can take their kindness out of our school.”

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