Student tribute to ailing classmate still flying high


Herald Writer

CATHCART — A year ago, as the year 2000 was fast approaching, the first of the cranes began to land in the Cathcart Elementary School library.

They came with wings out spread in all shades and sizes. Some bright, some subdued. Some with spots, some with stripes and some of iridescent hue.

The tiniest crane could fit inside a thimble.

All are in perpetual flight.

Robyn Tapia, the Cathcart librarian, walks beneath the cranes — 2,000 in all — each day. Her library has become an origami aviary.

She enjoys their silent company because she knows the cranes come from the hands and hearts of Cathcart children. Within each is written a wish.

The cranes and their messages represent everything from the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. to the idealistic hopes of childhood. Many simply wanted a gravely ill schoolmate to return from the hospital.

Tapia read "Tree of Cranes" by Allen Say and "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" by Eleanor Coerr to her students last year.

Sadako Sasaki was almost 2 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Ten years later, she developed leukemia from the effects of radiation. As she lay sick, her closest friend reminded her of the Japanese legend that if she folded a thousand paper cranes, the gods might grant her wish to be well again.

After having folded 964, she died on October 25, 1955. Her friends folded the missing paper cranes. There is a statue and memorial in the Hiroshima Peace Park built in honor of Sadako Sasaki and other children who suffered from the dropping of the bomb. Engraved on the base are the words: "This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world."

The story of Sadako Sasaki touched the Cathcart children.

They wanted to do something. Literature had led to a lesson in life.

"What I liked about the cranes is it was not my idea," Tapia said. "It was a result from our discussions about the book."

Tapia compares the momentum generated from the story to a chain-link fence — one thought was connected to another, which connected to another and another.

Before she could teach the students how to fold paper cranes, Tapia had to learn herself. She consulted her daughter, a high school student. It was hardly a natural skill for Mom. She had to practice and practice and practice some more.

Then, she had to figure out how to explain the steps of paper folding in a manner entire classes of kids could understand. It would prove to be a little like trying to teach two dozen youngsters how to tie their shoes with verbal instructions only.

During the next few months, the students, mainly from the older grades, folded 2,000 paper cranes with special wishes written inside.

Youngsters took paper and folded at home, bringing back cranes by the sackful.

A parent volunteer helped Tapia hang the cranes from the ceiling with kite strings of varying lengths.

These days, Jesse Matthews, a Cathcart first-grader, searches for books about trucks and dinosaurs with only an inkling of understanding about the cranes over his head.

A year ago, when he was seriously ill at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, fellow students were furiously folding cranes in his behalf. Inside the cranes above him are the wishes he would get well.

And he did.

Eventually, the cranes will come down.

Tapia is researching the possibility of sending them to Japan, where paper cranes arrive from all over the world as a symbol and wish for peace.

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