Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 9:45 PM on Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Students create message of hope, one fold at a time

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

From left, Brita Restad, Makayla Green, Sophie Morin, Cassidy Wylde and Ruby Allen gather in front of more than 800 paper cranes made by Fireweed Academy students and friends to bring hope to Sophie's great-uncle, Pat McBride, who was injured in a vehicle accident earlier this year.

It started as a study in geometry for Fireweed Academy third- and fourth-grade students, complete with reading assignments exploring the many-sided characteristics of polygons, circles and polyhedra. It ended with more than a thousand colorful expressions of hope for student Sophie Morin's great-uncle, Pat McBride of Homer, injured in an automobile accident earlier this year.

During the time the youngsters were immersed in the geometry study, teacher Stephanie Zuniga saw "Between the Folds," a PBS film by Vanessa Gould.

"It was all about geometry, math, science and art and specifically the Japanese art of folding paper — origami," said Zuniga.

That tied together perfectly Fireweed's quarter-long theme of culture.

"This provided opportunities to bring in art, geography, history, math," said Zuniga. "I loved it so much that I ordered (the film) and showed it to the kids at school."

Then, in the way that related events reveal themselves in an unplanned sequence, Zuniga read to her students "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes," by Eleanor Coerr. The book chronicles the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who lived in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing by the United States. Sasaki developed leukemia as a result of being exposed to the radiation. While in a nursing home, she learned of the legend that says if a sick person folds 1,000 paper cranes, he or she will be given the wish of health. Driven by her wish to get well, Sasaki began folding cranes.

Student Sophie Morin saw a direct application of the story.

"Sophie shared with her classmates her great-uncle Pat's story of the car accident, his spinal injury and his current situation," said Zuniga.

According to an account posted on a Caring Bridge web site, in February, while McBride and his wife, Barbara, were traveling, they were in a truck accident that injured both of them. Barbara McBride was taken to a nearby hospital, treated for her injuries and released. McBride was taken to the University of Maryland Hospital's trauma center in Baltimore, in critical condition with a broken neck.

In surgery the following day, some of McBride's vertebrae were fused together. He was able to move his head and neck; a ventilator helped his breathing.

Journal entries on the web site detail the severity of McBride's injuries, the intensity of his medical care and the progression of his healing.

Sophie's story of her uncle inspired her classmates to launch a paper-folding project. Their goal: 1,000 cranes. Their purpose: a wish of hope for Pat's body to heal.

Word of the project spread to Fireweed's fifth- and sixth-graders and they began folding cranes.

Then it spread to Fireweed's kindergarten through second-grade students and they, too, began folding. Donations of origami paper began arriving.

"The next thing you knew, the whole school was involved," said Zuniga.

"Kids were folding at recess, during lunch, in the morning before school started. Some kids took paper home and folded at home."

When Sophie and her family visited McBride, she took paper with her and continued folding on the plane.

Those plus the first 110 folded by Fireweed Academy students found their way to McBride's hospital room.

"I took 168 cranes to him and he really liked them," said Sophie.

The cranes were accompanied by a letter. Beneath a photo of the students holding a "You rock" banner was their message of hope.

"With each fold we think of you and hope for the best recovery possible. Heck! We even hope for the impossible. ... We will keep folding until we reach our goal of 1,000 paper cranes. We will save them here for you to see them all when you return."

Threading the cranes together on strings of 50 cranes each, the students realized last week they had overshot their goal. According to student Ruby Allen, they actually made 1,029 cranes.

"I signed on to the Caring Bridge web site with the kids and we composed and sent a letter to Pat and Barb to tell them that we reached our goal," said Zuniga.

"It was a pretty cool moment."

For now, the cranes hang in Zuniga's Fireweed classroom, awaiting McBride's return to Homer planned for June.

"I think it's helping," said student Cassidy Wykle of the cranes' message.

"I think the cranes are going to give hope that the kids' care about him," said third-grader Makayla Green.

While Sophie is aware that her great-uncle's healing "might take a long time," student Brita Restad was quick to point out, "It helps when you have people who care about you."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.