You might run in the other direction if you encountered a bunch of teen boys with tattoos, attitude and needles.
But not 80-eight-year-old Delorse Baney. She rushes to their rescue.
“You’ve got to relax,” she tells a slouching teen whose baseball cap all but hides his eyes.
“Yes ma’am,” he says, obediently loosening his grip on the crochet hook.
This is an art class at Patriot Learning Center’s evening high school in Falcon. Baney is helping the students with their slipped stitches and castoffs.
But it is more than that. Baney is giving them grandmotherly attention, doses of self-esteem and pride in accomplishing a goal.
Most of the students at Patriot, an alternative middle and high school, are facing personal challenges. Some are at risk of dropping out of school, other are making up credits so they can graduate.
“They are all just precious little souls. If I can just help them see the right side of life and have a desire for it,” Baney says.
Jay Hahn, principal of Patriot Learning Center, had doubts at first.
“I thought this could be a catastrophe.”
But then he visited the classroom.
“Here were all these kids on task, crocheting away. They took right to it. I think it is because this is instant gratification, they see an immediate product. And the guys didn’t think it was only a girl thing.”
Sam White, 17, likes creating charcoal sketches but found that crocheting in art class wasn’t so bad. “It’s better than just sitting here working in a book. You don’t have to ask for much help. Just watch how the teacher is doing it.”
There have been no hassles, either. “No one teases us about it,” White said.
Shane Lorenzen, 17, is underwhelmed by the experience. “It’s okay. I’d rather be hunting or something.”
Stephanie Garcia, 17, already has a big swatch of her purple and black scarf completed for a Mother’s Day gift. “I’ve been taking it home to work on. It’s really addicting. It lets me express myself. My boyfriend is really proud of me.”
Baney teaches intermittently, sometimes twice a week at both the high school and middle school.
The project is an outgrowth of her association with the Falcon Senior Citizens group, whose members have volunteered in various capacities at Patriot since it opened two years ago.
“It’s a valuable interaction because the elders have so much experience in various subjects,” Hahn explains.
Some help out in classrooms when needed. One of the main interactions is having the students help with the senior citizens’ annual craft and car shows to learn business skills. In turn, the students prepare and serve a Thanksgiving luncheon for the seniors.
Helping with the shows is good business and experience, and teaches them responsibility, Hahn says. But just giving the kids a lot of attention is a big part of it. While some might have grandparents, students don’t always have that association with their extended families, he notes.
Kim Brown, who teaches social studies and this art class, is glad to have Baney in the classroom.
“To be around a senior citizen is huge for these kids. She slows them down. They really like her and you should see them try to watch their language around her.”
They walk Baney safely to her car after class, too.
Brown says, “She reminds me of own grandmom, who died a couple years ago and who taught me how to crochet.”
Baney has lots of practice as a grandma. She has five children, 17 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, and has crocheted afghans for most of them.
She’s no stranger to a classroom, either. She and her late husband raised hogs and cattle, and grew wheat on their Nebraska farm. But she also spent five years in a rural schoolhouse, teaching all eight grades.
“A lot of children today lack self-esteem that comes from doing a job, no matter how meager, and seeing the results of it as accomplishment,” Baney says.
She had a lot of those little lessons in her own life. “When I was too little to reach the sink, my mother put down the stove door and set the dishpan on it so I could do the dishes,” Baney says. Another chore was picking up a basket full of corn cobs to stoke the stove.
She was surprised that most of the boys took to the crocheting, but she doesn’t expect everyone to be thrilled. “Maybe someday, when they need it more, they will find pleasure in it. Or maybe because they could do this, they might go for woodworking, making a birdhouse or such. There are so many things to take pride in.”
She brings to class a dusty rose afghan that she works on when the kids are immersed in their own work. But she doesn’t get much time for that, as she is constantly asked to solve crochet emergencies.
She is tickled to see Ian Witzel’s enthusiasm. He has completed a slender crochet chain at least 10 feet long. “It’s going to be a blanket or maybe a sleeping bag,” he tells her.
Baney praises his industriousness, but has him unfurl some stitches that are too tight. “Oh, this hurts,” he jokes with her.
She is convinced that such simple lessons can translate into life successes.
“When they take yarn and see something completed, I think they will be more inclined to see other things through.”