Cranes fill the Beattie Elementary School art room, colorful origami birds strung together in memory of a young girl who died long before any of the Lincoln students were born.
Those cranes will, before long, begin a journey halfway across the world to join a sea of other origami cranes folded in memory of a tragedy and a message of peace.
“Mrs. Weber told us the whole story about the cranes, how a girl got sick and died and how she tried to fold 1,000 cranes,” Necia Barajas said last week as she stood over a large bin full of folded cranes, taking them out, one by one, and stringing them together.
Everyone at Beattie Elementary knows the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl from Hiroshima who was 2 when the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs that would kill thousands and end World War II. They know how she survived the explosion, only to be diagnosed with acute leukemia — known then as the a-bomb disease — a decade later.
The Beattie students know how the 12-year-old Sadako, inspired by the Japanese legend that the gods will grant the folder of 1,000 cranes a wish, folded cranes in the hope she'd recover. Her death in 1955 triggered a campaign to build a monument for peace to honor her and other children who died.
Today, the monument in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park is decorated with origami cranes from around the world.
The Beattie students know all this because Sadie Schnittker is one of their classmates, and when her aunt, uncle and cousins moved to Hiroshima two years ago, her cousins attended Hiroshima International School.
The Thousand Cranes Club at that school collects cranes and takes them to the Children’s Peace Monument.
Sadie's aunt mentioned this to Sadie’s mom and suggested that Beattie should send cranes, and Sadie's mom — Tiffany Schnittker — thought that was an incredibly cool idea.
“First, it was ‘Yes, absolutely, this is amazing,’” Schnittker said. “Also, my initial thought was, '(now) I need to convince everyone at Beattie.’”
She pitched the idea to the school’s parent teacher organization, which pointed her in the direction of art teacher Holly Group-Weber.
Group-Weber, who doesn't shy away from a challenge, loved the idea.
“I liked the message of peace, of taking something bad and turning it positive, for good," she said.
The project, she thought, could show students how they're connected to others, help them think outside themselves.
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She wanted to share the story of Sadako, but had to make sure it was appropriate for all age levels.
When Sadie and her family visited their relatives in Hiroshima, they got to meet with the president of the Thousand Cranes Club. Club members gave them a lesson on folding cranes, which Schnittker photographed, videotaped and shared with students at Beattie.
The club also made a video addressed to Sadie's classmates, which Group-Weber used to help tell Sadako's story.
She wanted all students to be involved, so everyone — from kindergarten to fifth grade — made at least two cranes, one to send to Japan, the other to take home.
“That way every kid was represented in our 1,000 cranes,” Group-Weber said. “That was important to me.”
The intricacy of the crane folding was tough for some little hands and too many were ending up in the trash, so Group-Weber created the “crane hospital” for the messy, misfolded cranes. Students in the school’s leadership club fixed up those cranes so they could continue on their journey.
Before the last school year ended, the students had finished the cranes. They’d been boxed up and ready to send, with messages from students to their counterparts in Japan. Some of the students had added their own origami-folded hearts.
The boxes had been left on top of a bin the art teacher had used to store the folded cranes before they were strung together. A custodian, new to the building, mistook the boxes for trash and threw them away.
And so the students and teachers at Beattie took a deep breath and regrouped.
The older students began making more cranes this fall, fixing the misshapen ones at the crane hospital, and stringing them together, one by one.
Group-Weber said she’d been hoping to make a second 1,000 cranes to keep at Beattie, so the work wasn’t completely unforeseen, though there wouldn’t be any cranes for the school — until a couple of weeks ago.
Schnittker's sister, who's back in the United States now, got a message from the Hiroshima club, which agreed to send 1,000 cranes to Beattie — a perfect ending to a story that began two years earlier, then took an unforeseen turn.
But losing the cranes, Group-Weber said, gave the Beattie students a chance to put Sadako’s message into practice.
“I guess the silver lining is going through a tragedy together, (we can decide) what are we going to focus on,” she said. “We will rise to the occasion and fix it. We can do that.”
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