The chaotic din of elementary school kids playing on a playground at recess resounded across San Francisco’s John Muir Elementary — frenetic screams and whoops peppered with the whack of a basketball thumping asphalt.
But up the concrete stairs in Joe Mannarino’s 4th floor classroom, the scene was decidedly more tranquil as a dozen students sat in ring — quietly knitting.
This very un-recess like activity has been going on every Thursday since the beginning of the year. Fifth-grader Mariah Bess launched the school’s knitting club after she was struck with the idea to help the homeless by making them scarves.
“My student Mariah she came to me and said Mr. Joe I’ve noticed a lot of people are really cold,” Mannarino said. “And I’d like to do something about it.”
Bess had only recently learned to knit from a friend and was convinced these newfound skills could be used for some type of social healing. She talked to her mom and did some research.
“I looked up how many homeless people was on the streets and stuff, it was like 765,” Bess said wrapping black yarn around a yellow pencil. “When I’m on the bus and I always see homeless people in the street — and I wondered to myself don’t they need something warm to keep them happy?”
After working out the details with Mannarino, Bess hung a poster in the school hallway. Then she hit the playground, recruiting new members for her burgeoning club. Before long she had a dozen would-be knitters of varying skills turning out for the Thursday afternoon sessions to knit.
“I learned from YouTube,” said Adreanna Chum who answered Bess’ knitting call.
The students make-do with de facto supplies — for some yellow number two pencils take the place of knitting needles. Mannarino said students look forward to the sessions as a chance to escape into a tranquil world for a while. He said the idea of knitting scarves for the homeless has given the group focus.
“I think the end goal is exciting for them, so that they’re knitting and creating and working so hard on something for somebody else where there’s a real need,” Mannarino said, “And in this community there’s a real need.”
The serene knitting gatherings pose a stark contrast to the usual playground excitement, which members of the knitting club say is welcome.
“I like that it’s calming,” said student Terrence Hubbard tugging at a ball of yarn, “it helps me calm down.”
Bess said the knitters are stitching away at the work — with the goal of having their knitted goods ready to hand out later in the Spring. Her dream is for the group will take a field trip to homeless camps and pass out the scarves.
“My mom thinks the idea is cool,” Bess said. “My neighbor said I really need to take this serious if I want to do this.”
It appears Bess took her neighbor’s advice. On a recent day she sat at the tip of the circle doling out advice and watching her fellow-knitters with a motherly concern. At some point it occurred to her that as much as it was an accomplishment to get students to knit — it was even more impressive to they'd given up recess for the privilege.
“That kind of made my heart feel good,” Bess said.