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Knitting legacy: Colleagues pick up where teacher left off

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Hours after teachers at Southwest Elementary School learned that a friend and co-worker had been killed in the explosion, they started thinking about the Christmas gifts she regularly made for her students.

Each year, Jennifer Longworth knitted hats and scarves for the students in her Greenwood second-grade class. Teachers were used to seeing boys wearing knit hats with their initials and girls wearing scarves made of colorful, fun yarns after Christmas.

This year, as the weather has gotten colder, Longworth’s former students have started arriving at school with the hats and scarves she made them years ago, art teacher Katie Webb said.

As Webb sat in the library the day after the explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision that killed Longworth and her husband, Dion, she realized Longworth’s students wouldn’t receive any hats or scarves this year.

Webb believes Longworth already had finished this year’s set of gifts, and she didn’t like the idea of Longworth’s tradition stopping.

So she asked teachers at Southwest and Greenwood’s other elementary schools if they wanted to work together to knit for Longworth’s second-graders.

“I felt it in my heart that I really wanted to do that for her kids,” Webb said.

Webb didn’t care whether the teachers knew how to knit, and this week 24 teachers with varying levels of experience met to make the gifts. Others contributed yarn for the project. Any leftover hats, scarves or supplies will be donated to a local charity, Webb said.

The gifts will go to Longworth’s students, but the work is soothing for Southwest’s teachers as well.

The reality of Longworth’s death is still sinking in for her friends, and the chance to meet and bond over a project Longworth enjoyed helped teachers deal with the grief.

“We hit a wall. And it’s nice not to hurt anymore,” teacher Becki Habig said.

Habig had never knitted or used a loom before Webb asked her to help with the project. So, as the teachers worked, she stayed close to co-worker Suzy Leonard, who has been knitting for 12 years, and regularly asked for tips to make sure the hat she was knitting turned out right.

The past few weeks have been somber for Habig, Leonard and other teachers at Southwest. The Monday after Longworth’s death teachers spent the day talking with and consoling students.

Teachers then tried to get back to a normal schedule with their students; but by the end of the first week Habig said felt emotionally drained and numb.

Knitting provides a break for the teachers because they’re able to talk and bond over a project they knew Longworth loved, Webb and Habig said.

“This is one of the things where you would see her personality shine through,” Webb said.

Part of the comfort also comes from the reminder students will have of Longworth once the work is done.

“It’s a reminder that they could have for the rest of their life,” Habig said.

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