Students at Madison Avenue School have been busy folding more than 200 paper cranes, on their way to 1,000.

OXFORD – Brightly colored paper cranes hang from the ceiling of the lobby in the Madison Avenue School. They’re hovering over a Peace Pole.

“We’re focusing on peace,” said Principal Jane Gaskell Fahey. “It’s part of our character education.”

After nearly a week, there are a little more than 200 cranes now, but children are still folding. Their goal is to reach 1,000.

It’s the same goal Sadako Sasaki, then 11, had in 1955, when she began folding cranes to fulfill a Japanese legend.

A legend that said if someone folded 1,000 cranes, a wish would be granted.

Sadako learned that she had contracted leukemia from her exposure to the radiation from the atomic bomb the United State dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, when she was 2 years old.

One source of information on the Internet said she completed only 644 cranes before dying in October 1955 at 12 years old. Another source of Internet information said she completed her task before dying.

At first, she folded the cranes with the wish to get well.

When she realized she would not recover, she changed her wish to hoping people would live in peace, and there would not be another atomic bomb.

Fahey said the point of the story is that she never gave up.

This year, students at the Madison Avenue School commemorated Sept. 11 with a dedication of the Peace Pole.

A Peace Pole is a handcrafted monument that displays the message and prayer, “May peace prevail on Earth,” in nine languages.

According to the World Peace Prayer Society, there are more than 200,000 Peace Poles in 180 countries.

At the ceremony, Maine Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Norway, told students to stand tall like the pole and to be Peace Poles throughout their lives.

Superintendent Mark Eastman asked the children if they didn’t make a difference, then who would?

Fahey shared the fact that she knew John Ogonowski, the pilot of the airplane that struck the first tower in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Fahey was the principal at a small Catholic school in Dracut, Mass., that the pilot’s children attended and where his wife, Peg, was very active.

She talked about Ogonowski more as a farmer than airplane pilot.

“I talked about him as a peace-loving man,” Fahey said. “He gave part of his farm to Cambodian refugees. He was a man who wanted to make a difference in this world.”

Fahey said the kids relate to Sadako because she was a little kid with a big dream. She said at some point in the school year they would be talking about peaceful lives and leaving the world a better place.

“This isn’t about war or politics,” Fahey said. “It’s about teaching respect. We haven’t mentioned Iraq. We have talked about how people can be kinder, gentler and more compassionate.”

When a handful of fifth-graders were asked what peace means to them, the responses varied from “no war” to “friendliness” to nonviolence.

“I think of peace as a good thing, cause we’re not fighting,” said Nolan Kilfoyle, a 10-year-old from Paris.

“Peace is cool,” said Chris Palmer, also 10 and also from Paris.

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