Pioneer Middle School students turn hands to healing

Students have been folding origami cranes to send to Newtown, Conn.


WALLA WALLA — One thousand paper cranes are traveling from Walla Walla to Newtown, Conn. this week.

The colorful origami cranes were carefully folded by Pioneer Middle School students in the weeks after the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 children and seven adults died.

With the cranes comes the wish of Pioneer students to bring healing and safety to Sandy Hook students.

The Japanese legend of the paper cranes says that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes — one for each year of the holy creature’s life — is granted a wish.

The story of the 1,000 cranes is perhaps best known in the nonfiction children’s story “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”

Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, striking near her home. Sadako survived, but developed leukemia from the radiation. She died at age 12 from the disease, but not before she tried to fold 1,000 paper cranes. The story says Sadako’s family and friends helped finish the cranes after her death, and wished for world peace.

Pioneer Middle School Principal Mira Gobel recalled the story of Sadako and the legend of the thousand origami cranes in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting.

“All weekend long, I was just heartbroken,” Gobel said. Combined with the sorrowful reflection was the need to address healing and safety at her own school.

From Sadako’s story came the idea to take on the challenge of folding 1,000 paper cranes as a school and address healing through the process.

Gobel said she started the project with her family over the weekend, folding about 50 cranes. Gobel then shared the cranes with Pioneer students during an assembly, where she talked about the Japanese story.

“I spilled the cranes on the floor so the students could see them,” she said.

The project was open to all students; squares of origami paper in many colors, sizes and patterns were left throughout the school. Teachers supported the project by giving students time during class to fold them. Some teachers used the origami cranes in lessons, Gobel said.

By Dec. 19, less than a week after the Sandy Hook shooting, Pioneer students had folded hundreds of cranes.

Gobel said the students’ goal was to fold 3,000 cranes: one set for Sandy Hook, another set to be divided between Walla Walla’s elementary schools, and a final set for Pioneer that will be displayed in the lobby. Students are a few hundred away from completing the entire goal.

Each set carries the same wish of safety.

This week, Pioneer was getting ready to send the 1,000 cranes, strung together in five separate mobiles, to Sandy Hook. Gobel said the cranes will go to the school district because the school is currently closed.

Gobel said the act itself of folding paper squares into cranes helped bring a sense of healing to Pioneer.

“It is very therapeutic,” Gobel said of creating the origami cranes. “It is very healing.”


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