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ACGC students make dresses during an after school program funded by a 21st Century grant. Pictured from left to right: Lyle Schmidt, Jill Oslund, Madison Whitcomb, Amanda Hendrickson and Kayla Shriver. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Warm hearts in Minn. provide cool dresses for African kids

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

A group of Minnesota school students who say they are lucky because they have food to eat, water to drink and clothes to wear, spent several days in December making little dresses for girls in Africa who have next to nothing.

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And in the process of learning the value of giving something to others, the students put their math skills into practice in an exercise that could boost their grades. As part of a federal 21st Century grant, about 60 Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City students are participating in after-school enri-chment programs designed to improve academic achievement and get them more connected to their school and community.

Each two-hour session, conducted every Tuesday and Thursday at all three ACGC school sites, includes time for students to get help with homework, followed by special activities that reinforce educational curriculum standards.

Another goal of the program, according to the PACT for Families Collaborative that distributed the funding to eight area school districts, is to "increase the capacity of participants to "become productive adults."

Past sessions at the ACGC middle school/high school have included learning how to cook a meal and helping an elderly woman decorate her yard for Christmas.

But during three sessions in December, the group of a half-dozen middle-school and high-school students learned how to measure, cut, fold, iron and sew simple elasticized-top dresses for a project called "Little Dresses for Africa."

The church-based project provides instruction for making the simple dresses and distributes them to girls in orphanages, churches and schools.

The sewing project involved spatial math concepts, said Amanda Hendrickson, an ACGC math teacher who was working with the students.

"I hate math," said Kayla Shriver, an eighth-grader, who was carefully cutting fabric for the dress she was making.

"But you like this, don't you?" asked Hendrickson, indicating the sewing project, to which Shriver eagerly acknowledged she did indeed like.

"Well, this is math," said Hendrickson.

This was the second sewing project the group had done that meshed math with a life skill.

The first involved making fleece mittens by using directions that sounded like they came from math and geometry text books.

After taking several measurements of their hands, students were directed to take the answer from the first measurement, divide by two to get a mid-point where they would place a compass and draw a semi-circle on top with a radius equal to the answer of the division problem.

The instructions continued: From the bottom right corner of your rectangle measure up 3½ inches and mark it. At that marking draw a 45-degree angle and extend the line segment 2½ inches long.

Definitely sounds like math.

While some of the projects provided down-to-earth living skills, making the dresses helped the students recognize their role in meeting the global need of others.

Jill Oslund, who coordinates the program at ACGC, said the students were quick to grasp the value the dresses will have for young children living in poverty.

"I'm just so happy they can get clothes now," said Lyle Schmidt, an eighth-grader from Atwater, who was not intimated by operating a sewing machine.

"I think it's pretty cool," said Madison Whitcomb, grade 8, from Litchfield.

"Here we have everything," said Oslund, telling the students that when the little girls in Africa receive the homemade dresses, it's "going to seem like heaven."

Hendrickson said she was pleased the students were not only reinforcing their math skills by sewing but also learning the value of service to others.

"I like doing nice things for other people," said Shriver. "It's a Christmas present for them."

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