When Bettendorf Middle School students found out homeless people in the community need clean socks, it caused some of them to cry.

"I was really surprised," Anika Bailey, a 12-year-old in Susan Owen's language arts class, said.

"I thought they'd need jackets," said Mary Selden, 12.

"Socks are less expensive than other things," Anika said. "If you are walking around and are homeless, your socks will get wet."

After they learned about the need, Anika, Mary and Annabelle Donohoo, 11, teamed up to launch a socks drive at their school. The girls are determined to collect 1,000 pairs to donate to Humility of Mary Shelter, Davenport. So far, they have collected 252 pairs.

The activity is part of the school's project-based learning on homelessness. According to Owen, the students take several weeks to answer an essential question of "What is it like to walk a mile in someone else's shoes?"

Project-based learning means Bettendorf students explore different ways to answer a specified question, Owen said. This goes on for several weeks during the academic year.

Sometimes, the students have better ideas for helping others than teachers do, Owen said. It was a student who suggested that fresh food items being thrown away at lunch in the middle school be retained and placed where students could eat them, say, before they got into sports or other after-school activities.

The idea of walking a mile in another person's shoes has prompted some students to decorate a shoe for an exhibit from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11. Students will explain their project to members of the public who stop by. Socks may also be donated at this time.

For the socks drive, the girls put collection boxes in several areas of the school and at the front entrance. They made fliers, posters and also researched local media outlets to try and get the word out.

According to Owen, the students began the project in October, called "Socktober."

It is a cross-curricular project this time, Owen said. The language arts students read novels on the topic; in social studies, the students studied geography and different cultures of the countries in the books. The math class did a unit on budgeting, and how a family of four lives at certain wage levels.

In addition, the class invited Christine Adamson, director of services at Humility of Mary Shelter, to speak.

Adamson sought to give the students context to their efforts to collect socks. She focused on the local homeless population and said homeless families are basically the same as the students' families, except they don't have a home at the moment.

"They have families, they go to school, they are cheerleaders and football players," Adamson said. Often, she said the students are only aware of homeless people who are panhandling.

It's also important, Adamson said, for the kids to make a difference with others. She challenged them: "Could you imagine waking up to go to school, and you have no socks, or they are wet? How much more confidence would you have if you put on clean socks in the morning, to start the day fresh?"