Students fold 1000 paper cranes for upper school math teacher recovery


Sabrina Zhu

Vivian Bi (11) teaches Makayla Aguilar (11) how to fold a paper crane. The LIFE Board organized a project to fold 1000 paper cranes for upper school math teacherJane Keller, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

by Alena Suleiman, Reporter

Laughter emanated from Manzanita Hall and the orchard during the morning office hours block of Oct. 14 as LIFE Board members handed out slips of origami paper, inviting students of all grades to help them fold paper cranes. The goal: to reach 1000 paper cranes in order to gift them to upper school math teacher and LIFE Board adviser Jane Keller, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma this past fall. 

Now with the project recently completed, the LIFE Board is currently in the process of stringing the cranes together and hopes to send them to Keller by the beginning of winter break.

“Cranes are a representation of healing and positivity, and when you give 1000 cranes to someone as a gift, it represents them [getting] to have a wish,” Ashley Barth (12), a member of the LIFE Board, said. “In this case, the wish would be for [Keller] to have a quick and successful treatment and recovery.”

The tradition of folding 1000 cranes originates from an ancient Japanese legend and has been popularized from the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was diagnosed with leukemia after exposure to radiation during the Hiroshima bombing in World War II. According to a fictionalized version of the story, Sadako began folding origami paper cranes in hopes of recovery but only finished 644 before she died on Oct. 25, 1955. Her classmates later helped to fold the remaining 356 paper cranes.

Every year, select Harker sixth grade students who participate in the sister school exchange program visit Sadako’s statue in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with 1000 folded paper cranes in remembrance of the victims of Hiroshima. Localizing this gesture to the upper school, Ashley pitched the idea of folding 1000 cranes for Keller, and she and Sujith Pakala (12) now lead the project. Kavita Murthy (12), a member of the LIFE Board, described the process of bringing together the community to complete the 1000 cranes and discussed the importance of this gift as a symbol of support for Keller.

“There was good turnout [for crane folding],” Kavita said. “As a community, we’re trying to come together. She’s a math teacher, she’s an advisor to the junior class. She’s had a huge impact on so many people, and we wanted to show our support.”

Avery Olson (11), a member of Keller’s advisory, shared how Keller has made a positive impact on her, describing her comforting aura. 

“She’s been a really good advisor,” Avery said. “She’s always been able to give us advice on classes, and I feel like our whole advisory feels like we could always come to her whenever we need her for anything. Her office feels like a really safe space.”

Upper school academics dean Kelly Horan expressed gratitude for her close connection with Keller, who shared similar ideas and goals surrounding the well-being of all members of the community.

As a community, we’re trying to come together. She’s had a huge impact on so many people, and we wanted to show our support.

— Kavita Murthy, LIFE Board member

“She and I have very similar goals for our student population — wellness has always been really important to me,” Horan said. “I worked with her a lot on LIFE and bigger picture things regarding that, so she’s always been someone that I appreciate sharing ideas with.”

As she glanced at the cardboard box filled with hundreds of cranes sitting in her office, Horan explained the value of having the cranes, a collective effort of the entire community, delivered to Mrs. Keller. 

“You don’t always feel good when you’re going through chemotherapy, so having something nice and bright and to know that the community is thinking about you — we want her to have [the cranes] as soon as possible,” Horan said.

Horan extended her appreciation to those willing to step up and show support for Keller, from the 1000 cranes, a community project, to simply individual students checking in on Upper School Division Head Butch Keller. 

“I think the community is responding in amazing ways, from both the kids to the adults in the community,” Horan said. “There are lots of different ways that [Jane Keller] and [Butch Keller] are being supported. It’s been nice to see the community rally and just wrap them in love and care and healing hopes.”

Additional reporting by Medha Yarlagadda.