Little fingers carefully crease small pieces of paper. Eyes focus down and then back up, watching Duanesburg teacher Erin Goodwin demonstrate how to fold each section.
Step by step, the second-graders fold and crease, wiggling, talking excitedly, stopping for instruction. A wing appears, and then another. A few more folds produce the finishing touches — the majestic neck and head of a crane. Suddenly, the classroom is aflutter with paper cranes that carry a simple message — peace and comfort.
The crane has become an enduring symbol after 12-year-old Sadako Sasaki became sickened by leukemia from radiation 10 years after a nuclear bomb was dropped by an American bomber on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. She started folding origami cranes in her hospital bed, recalling a Japanese legend that making 1,000 paper cranes would allow a wish to come true. Sadako folded 644 cranes before she grew too weak to fold any more. A monument showing her holding a golden crane aloft stands in the Hiroshima Peace Park.
Artist and author Sue DeCicco, a college friend of Goodwin's, seized on that legacy. Her "Armed with the Arts" project was later expanded into a worldwide "Armed with Arts" peace crane project for the United Nations.
Goodwin's students have already found a pressing need to send comfort — the devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan. The grandparents of one of Goodwin's students live there and made it through the fierce storm that claimed thousands of lives.
Other cranes will be mailed to addresses in Africa, Colombia and Germany, where students in this rural Schenectady County town have relatives. Each will write a letter or a poem to send with their crane, part of the second grade curriculum's friendly letter unit.
"You can show people you care with a card or a peace crane," said Goodwin, a member of the Duanesburg Teachers Association, who traveled to the U.N. for Peace Day this fall.
She uses the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr for research, and has students read the picture book Yoko's Paper Crane by Rosemary Wells.
"Erin Goodwin is helping children to see that when you do something good for someone else, it makes you feel good. It goes a long way," said Christopher Danapilis, president of the 70-member TA.
DO IT YOURSELF
To learn how to make origami cranes, go to www.peacecraneproject.org. Children especially are invited to make and send cranes to children from other cultures so they can make connections, share similarities and come to understand and respect differences.