The wishing spotSep 04, 2022 11:06AM ● By Jet Burnham
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Each September, Kathy O’Hara teaches her third grade students about the 9/11 tragedy. Each year, more students can relate to the feelings of tragedy and loss even though the event occurred before they were born.
“A lot of these kids have lost a lot of their innocence and a lot of their childhood because of COVID and other things,” O’Hara said.
Last year, she planned projects and activities that would encourage her students to think of others who were suffering. She read them the book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr, from which they learned that in Japan, the crane is a symbol of healing and hope. Her students decided to fold 1,000 paper origami cranes to donate to a senior center or nursing home. However, when Ukraine was invaded last spring, the students realized there wasn’t much they could do to help except to wish hope and healing for the Ukrainians.
“That's when we thought, ‘Why don't we build those 1,000 cranes and hang them up as kind of a symbol for everything that we've experienced over the last couple of years with COVID and Ukraine and everything?’” O’Hara said.
Her class of 25 students had completed nearly 500 cranes when they invited the rest of the school to participate. Soon, students were folding cranes whenever they had free time.
The tiny cranes were taped to string and hung from the ceiling in the front lobby of the school as an art installation.
Principal Joel Pullan was touched by the students’ efforts and turned the area into a wishing spot this year by adding a wishing rug beneath the colorful cranes.
“Kids will be able to come to the wishing spot, under 1,000 cranes, to make a wish for someone,” Pullan said.
The wishing spot is one of many social emotional supports at Riverton Elementary. Positive messages of “You are unique” and “You are respected” are the first and last words students see as they enter and exit the school building.
“When kids are struggling, for whatever reason, they come in and their heads are down,” Pullan said. “So, we have mats for every doorway with a statement on them that's uplifting. We rotate these every month so the kids get a different message as they walk in.”
Riverton Elementary also has a Wellness Room where students can calm down on days their emotions are overwhelming.
“We’re creating an environment and a place that's safe and filled with positive relationships and we’re being responsive to kids’ needs academically, socially and emotionally,” Pullan said. “It's all about building kids, building their confidence, building their emotional capacity to be successful in tough situations. If it's not a pandemic, it's going to be something else.”
O’Hara said kids are dealing with a lot. She has been surprised by how many of her students, who are eight and nine years old, struggle with anxiety.
In her classroom, O’Hara asks her students to give her positive affirmations each morning, completing the statements I am___, I can___, I will___ to start the day off on a positive note.
“I just think they just need positive reinforcement,” she said. “I just wanted them to know that they can do good things, that they're capable of doing their best, and capable of being a good friend, and there's ways that they can help others. They can help others better if they feel better about themselves.”
O’Hara has taught at Riverton Elementary for 15 years and said the school culture is focused on nurturing students and encouraging good behavior. The school’s theme, posted in front of the school, is “Building a community where children thrive.”
“We see so many kids that struggle,” Pullan said. “They show up every day but they struggle and we just want to be there for them. We're building something great here—it's not just a classroom outside, it's not just a mat on the floor, it's not just 1,000 cranes on the ceiling. We're building a place where children can thrive.”