After-school specials

Cranbury School PTO program exposes students to new hobbies

By: Jessica Beym
   Sitting at a table covered with multi-colored yarn on Tuesday afternoon, Jessie Cier, 11, a student at the Cranbury School stared carefully at the knitting needles in her hands as she worked on her first few rows of stitches.
   As she looped the yarn in and out, slowly the material started to take shape.
   Despite the concentrated look on her face, Jessie said she found her first few times knitting to be much less difficult than she imagined.
   "It’s pretty easy, actually, once you get the hang of it," she said.
   From knitting to scrapbooking, from chess to art, students are spending their late afternoons learning new hobbies or perfecting existing ones. The six-week programs, which are sponsored by the Cranbury School PTO, are available every winter, summer and fall for students in the third through fifth grades. The classes cost $30 each and are taught by parents, teachers and other volunteers from the community. The fees go to the PTO for other sponsored events that they host at the school.
   On Tuesday afternoon, Anju Sahni, the PTO program coordinator, was in the teachers lounge showing a small group of girls the many different stitches used to knit or crochet. In addition to the knitting class, Ms. Sahni also teaches the plastic canvas class where students create tissue boxes, magnets and other crafts.
   "I love to do crafts and I feel like if I can take advantage of that, then the kids can benefit from what I know at least," Ms. Sahni said.
   At another table, Nivi Pemmasani and her friend Kelly Dredger, both 10 years old, were working on making purses with a glittery white yarn. Nivi was using a purling method while Kelly was crocheting, which she believed was a bit easier than knitting.
   "My mom used to crochet and I have a blanket that she made when she was 9," Kelly said, adding that she has enjoyed crocheting since she picked up the pastime during a summer camp four years ago.
   Aside from knitting, some of the popular courses like art and chess are offered during every season. In the warmer months, the PTO has outside classes and sports such as tennis or basketball.
   But on Tuesday, down the hall Thomas Stinson, the industrial arts teacher at Cranbury School, had a room full of students who were determined to find a way to capture their opponents in a checkmate.
   At the start of each chess class, Mr. Stinson said he gives the students a puzzle where they have a chessboard already set up with pieces and have to figure out how to make checkmate in one move.
   After the lessons, the students spread out in the classroom and compete against each other on the many different chessboards that Mr. Stinson provides. Some of the boards allow four players to compete at one time. There are also a few custom boards that Mr. Stinson — an avid chess player — created, such as a board that uses different toy army soldiers to represent pieces.
   Alden Reyes, 11, has taken the chess course for the past three years and was playing against 8-year-old Thomas Meyers. Despite the silent and sometimes competitive nature of the game, the boys were playing amiably and offering each other tips on how to avoid losing their king in a checkmate.
   On the other side of the room, Mr. Stinson leaned over 10-year-old Elizabeth Maxey’s shoulder and pointed out a strategy to move her rooks in order to put her opponent, Richa Khanolkar, 9, in check. Elizabeth was the only girl who signed up for the chess course until she decided to recruit a few of her friends.
   "The boys used to tease me a lot about being the only girl," Elizabeth said.
   But she said now she’s able to beat them in a game of chess.