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1,000 paper cranes give strength

May 21, 2018 11:38AM ● Published by Jet Burnham

Elizabeth Thomson receives love and strength from 1,000 cranes made by her school friends. (Photo courtesy Katie Jensen/North Star Academy)

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

Fifty-two fourth-graders at North Star Academy in Riverton made 1,000 cranes in three days to send love and good luck to a teacher and student, both fighting cancer.

The students had read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr, a historical novel about a girl suffering from leukemia. The story reminded them of third-grader Elizabeth Thomson, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last May. 

“They were able to relate to the book and connect [the character’s] story to her story,” said Principal Tana Archer. 

When they learned in the book that cranes symbolize strength, the students wanted to remind Elizabeth and their former second-grade teacher Marci Shouten, who has been fighting breast cancer this year, to be brave during their medical treatments. 

So, they committed to making 1,000 cranes for them.

“We just started making them like crazy,” said fourth-grade teacher Katie Jensen. Using origami paper and plain copy paper, students folded cranes between assignments and in their free time. One student made 132 in one night with his family’s help. 

“They took so much pride in the project that they wanted to get it done as soon as they could,” said Jensen. 

Students delivered several cranes to Shouten’s classroom, where they now hang from her ceiling. The bulk of the cranes were delivered to Elizabeth, who is no longer able to attend school.

Fifty-two fourth-graders at North Star Academy in Riverton made 1,000 cranes in three days to send love and good luck to a teacher and student, both fighting cancer. (Photo courtesy Katie Jensen/North Star Academy)

 “When we received the cranes from the fourth-graders, it was very touching,” said Elizabeth’s mom, Cheree Thomson. “We have baskets full of cranes around our house, reminding us of the sweet children who care about Elizabeth.”

The fourth-graders knew Elizabeth well because they share recess time with the third grade. Jensen said her students are close because they grow up together in a school of just 530 students.

“We have an amazing group of kids in our school,” said Jensen. “With the community we have here, the kids are very loving and very caring.”  

North Star Academy also has a service-oriented format, regularly incorporating student-led service projects into the curriculum. 

“Any time a kid voices a desire to do a service project, we allow them to run with it as much as we can so it helps them grow even more as a person,” said Jensen.

Jensen and the other the other fourth-grade teacher, Wendy Feotis, have supported their students in acts of service throughout the year. Recently, they made play kits for patients at Primary Children’s Hospital and decorated valentines for the Road Home Shelter. 

“This grade just has a heart for service,” said Archer. “We try to help them look outside themselves—and the students took this opportunity.” 

Shouten said she has felt so much support from students and their families this year as she fought breast cancer. 

“I have gotten strength from everyone's kindness and prayers,” she said. “It was so good to be able to come to school and teach and not think of myself.” 

Her students, past and present, were especially a great support to her.

“The kids are so kind—it’s a really safe place to be bald,” she said. “They give me their hugs, and families tell me they’re praying for me. I just appreciate so much to be able to come and work and be with them—it’s been my saving grace.” 

She and Elizabeth, who was her student last year, formed a bond as they commiserated with each other through the trials of chemotherapy treatments, hair loss and regrowth. 

While Shouten recently received a clean bill of health, Elizabeth’s disease is progressing. Through the difficult times, both have felt the support of the close-knit school community.

“We have had countless stories of love and kindness shown to our family,” said Thomson. 

Shouten said the support she has received this year has been amazing.

“I feel so blessed to work here,” she said.


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