Generally speaking, third graders and quilts don't go hand in hand.

But for one class at Marina Vista Elementary, it was a perfect pairing.

For the second year, Mary Alexander's Pittsburg class has been involved with the Quilts of Valor.

The national program began in 2003 by a Blue Star parent wanting to honor and welcome "returning warriors with the love and gratitude they deserved," according to the website. In the past nine years, 65,000 unique quilts have been awarded to service members and veterans.

Two years ago, former Marina Vista Principal Lynne Plunkett thought "it would be exciting to combine this with service learning at the third-grade level."

"Last year when I retired was the perfect timing to begin the project. I knew Mrs. Alexander would value the project and provide the necessary support to complete the letters to the recipient."

Plunkett's son is in the Navy, and she has had many other relatives who "have served our country." Each student designs the artwork for a square of the quilt.

What excites Plunkett about the project is that students learn "the meaning of interdependence. Each one creates a piece of the whole. When they first see the quilt, they are amazed. They can identify their block and are proud of their contribution."

Teacher Mary Alexander said she loves the teamwork. "Each student must do their part ... When I see my students working on their square, their love and compassion is obvious."


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Alexander's favorite part of the process is when her students see the finished product. "The kids are amazed ... At this point, every child feels and knows that they are a part of an honorable project. They know that the quilt was made from unconditional love."

For now, Plunkett is solo on this project -- piecing together the quilt on her own. But her goal is to enlist other quilters in the area and "eventually complete a Quilt of Valor in each third-grade class at Marina Vista."

Alexandar said it "shows them compassion for other humans by giving to someone who needs to feel their love."

Last year, Alexander's class received a letter from the veteran who was awarded the students' quilt.

For more info, visit www.qovf.org

A DRIVE TO SUCCEED: Two Liberty High students recently demonstrated their car smarts in a regional automotive skills competition.

Brayden Sudweeks, 18, and Manuel Smith, 17, earned second place in the Northern California Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Hands-On competition.

The Brentwood duo was among nine teams -- including three in Contra Costa County -- that took part in the event that was held at Danville's Blackhawk Automotive Museum.

Teams were given 90 minutes to diagnose and fix 10 problems with a Ford, and take it for a test drive after. Two Ford factory technicians served as judges.

Using a diagnostic scan tool and a laptop computer to refer to the car's instruction manual, Sudweeks and Smith, who are in Liberty's advanced automotive diagnostic class, completed the tasks in 1 hour and 23 minutes.

Although they were the first team to get its car running, Alhambra High School's beat it to the judges.

The Liberty mechanics finished the test drive with a scant 3 minutes to spare. The remaining eight teams didn't finish the competition.

In addition to scholarships up to $5,000 from four auto repair schools, the teens won tools, a trophy and certificates of participation.

Sudweeks, a senior, plans to become a Ford mechanic, and Smith wants to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.

Staff writer Rowena Coetsee contributed to this column. If you have school news to share, contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net. You can also reach Judith Prieve at jprieve@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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