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Origami class finds a much broader purpose

WILLMAR -- Students at the Area Learning Center in Willmar are folding origami cranes again.

Four years ago, art teacher Monica Villars began introducing origami to her classes, and dozens of students have learned to fold the delicate birds since then.

This fall, they have found a broader purpose for their art.

By Sept. 30, the students hope to have folded more than 1,000 cranes, all to be donated to two Eagan teenagers.

Michelle Reed and Carly Gutzmann, both 14, are collecting cranes to honor Japanese-Americans interned in relocation camps during World War II. They hope to collect 120,313 cranes, one for each of the people sent to the camps after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The girls were featured in an Associated Press story a week ago, detailing their effort to collect the cranes. They asked for help from anyone who wanted to fold cranes.

"I was just so proud that one of the students came and said, "Monica, we should help these kids,'" Villars said. It went to the heart of what she hopes the students will take away from the service learning class she teaches.

One of the students has written a letter to the girls to let them know the cranes are coming. Villars hopes her students will be able to deliver the cranes in person.

Nearly everyone in the school has folded at least a few cranes. Some can hardly seem to stop.

During lunch periods and homeroom periods, students could be found in classrooms, bent over tables folding cranes. They varied in size from several inches tall to some that were about one-eighth of an inch high.

The tiny cranes were produced by twins Louis and Miguel Bazaldua, 17, of Willmar. It got competitive when one brother made a crane smaller than his brother's, and his brother tried to outdo him. One of the particularly tiny cranes can take up to a half hour to complete, they said, smiling. The larger ones take them just a few minutes.

"We've done our best to teach everybody," Villars said as she walked from room to room to check on progress.

Students like Robert Leal, 17, a senior from Willmar, said they liked the reason they were folding.

"I think that encourages a lot of people," said Sasha De La Garza, 18, a junior from Kerkhoven. Sasha proudly folded her first crane on Thursday, guided by Samantha Schliep, 17, a senior from Willmar.

By Thursday, the students were running out of origami paper, and Villars cut squares of graph paper. The paper was thinner, which some preferred, and the white paper with blue lines folded into some respectable-looking cranes.

The service learning students gave up their lunch periods to help others learn the technique.

Villars said she has been able to sit back and let her students do the teaching. The combined effort has helped foster a sense of community in the school, she said.

The students said teaching someone the multiple folds involved in making a crane could be a challenge, but they had fun doing it.

Adelmann said it was a good feeling "when they do figure it out and learn." Villars beamed and told her that that's how teachers feel.

Making the cranes can be difficult in the beginning, Adelmann said, "but it's kind of a natural thing once you learn how to do it."

Eulalia Gerrero, 18, a senior from Willmar, was another student/teacher, helping others learn how to do the cranes and glad to be helping someone else with a service project.

Later this year, the service learning class will have other projects, including painting a mural at Kennedy Elementary School, she said, but "we've been more into the cranes right now."