Pre-IB freshmen Mia Thielbar and Tina So had never met Marilyn Ling, a reading teacher at Land O'Lakes High School whose absence has been keenly felt by students and staff since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Even so, the two students handcrafted a gift of 1,000 paper cranes for Ling.
"We just wanted to give her hope," said Mia, 14.
"We were happy to make her happy," said Tina, 14.
In a span of four months, the students worked together to make as many as 200 cranes a day, in pink, gold and light blue. They worked during classes, with occasional help from other students, during lunchtimes and at home.
In choosing a form of artistic expression to comfort Ling, the students looked to an unusual source of inspiration.
"It all started with a post-it note," Mia said.
An origami enthusiast, Tina was making paper cranes in class when Mia asked her how it was done. Soon both girls were making birds, frogs and other animals from notebook and post-it note paper; drawing the attention of their Inquiry Skills teacher, Angelle Damalos.
Damalos shared the story of Sadako, a young cancer patient and the inspiration for the Children's Peace Monument in Japan.
"In Japan, the crane is a traditional sign of long life and good fortune. According to the folk tale, if one crane represents a thousand years of happiness, then a thousand cranes would mean one million years of happiness," Damalos wrote in related correspondence. "The Children's Peace Monument is the statue that was erected to honor Sadako and all the children who suffered from cancer and other diseases resulting from the aftermath of WWII and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Visitors cover it in the origami cranes as a symbol of hope."
Touched by this story, the girls decided to make their own paper cranes and give them as a gift to the teacher whose kindness and intelligence were praised by Damalos and others.
The paper crane project was one of several schoolwide efforts to support Ling, who is on an extended leave of absence. Other students created paper links for the Links for Ling fundraiser, an effort in which each participant paid $1 to purchase a link, inscribe it with a personal message for Ling, then add it to a display of links presented in the school's commons area.
In another fundraiser, teacher Pat Connolly dressed up as Santa to entertain families involved in the Land O'Lakes High-based preschool program. Santa posed for photos with participants in exchange for small donations, with all donations going to help Ling.
Just before Christmas, the links, cranes and other gifts were presented to Ling, along with a $1,000 check and a copy of the book One Thousand Paper Cranes.
"Marilyn told me she has hung up her gifts in her home," said principal Ric Mellin, "as a reminder of the love and faith that we at the school have in her."
In the future, both girls say they might make additional cranes for other cancer patients, at their school and perhaps at local hospitals.
"These students exhibited the IB profile of caring by showing empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others and committing their personal time to make a positive statement in someone's life," Damalos wrote.
Jeff Morgenstein, assistant principal for IB, agrees.
"The degree of empathy and compassion that these students show is amazing," he said. "What they're learning in IB is not just the subjects they study, but about the people they are becoming."