Wytheville Minnick School math teacher Aaron Gunter’s lesson plan went well beyond math.

Sure, his middle-school students would calculate area and perimeter. They would figure possible prices and account for marketing, tax and discount costs. But they would also plan and collaborate. They would reflect on their work in writing. Most importantly, they would do all this for the benefit of others – a group of senior citizens.

Even Gunter didn’t foresee just how valuable that last part of the experience would turn become, but it was Minnick School Principal Tracy Gibson who received the biggest shock, a surprise that connected her biological family to her Minnick School family in an expression of recognition and love.

Gunter’s students made 11 lap quilts from colorful fleece fabric donated by Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

“I found out that quilting is really hard and time consuming,” wrote one student. Another learned something even more important. “Working on a common goal helped me understand I can work with others I don’t always get along with,” he wrote.

Each completed quilt bore this student-written message:

With each measure of fleece, we thought of you.

Every inch we cut put us closer to you.

With each knot we tied, we thought of you.

These blankets are filled with love from us to you.

In both good times and bad they are here for you.

So let us share from us to you.

The actual delivery of the quilts brought a unexpected turn of events. Instead of simply presenting their gifts to residents of Carrington Place at Wytheville, students made new friendships with people who’ve seen a lot of life and have a lot to share.

“As I was developing this project, I never dreamed its outcome would be so rewarding,” Gunter said. “The trip to Carrington Place was eye opening for both me and my students. I did not anticipate that my students would be sharing hugs, laughter, sadness and tears with the nursing-home residents.”

Gibson was thrilled with the project’s combination of mathematics, teamwork and community service. Then she learned that her own grandmother was to be among the Carrington Place residents receiving a quilt.

But that meant Gibson had to explain something to her students.

“My ‘Mamaw’ suffers from dementia, an incurable disease, taking memories from one who, at one time, could tell me stories from many years ago,” she told them. Sadly, 93-year-old Maxie Mae no longer recognizes her granddaughter. But while Gibson was watching students pass out blankets and talk with residents, her Mamaw turned and said, “You are my Tracy Lynn!”

“I was excited to feel, at that moment, she knew me,” Gibson said. When Gibson was leaving, her grandmother again called her by her name.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity Holy Trinity Lutheran Church provided my students,” Gibson said. “Each was given an opportunity to experience the struggle of a difficult project, but, more importantly, they were able to be part of an unforgettable experience.”

Gunter’s students agree.  “Once you saw how grateful they were, it made it wonderful,” one wrote. “They were friendly and each one was different and full of history.  I loved the visit there and wish we could do more.”  —Dan Montgomery