SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Like most Americans, a former art teacher in a tiny western South Dakota town watched stunned as details about last month’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school emerged.

Lorri Acott could only imagine what the students of Sandy Hook Elementary were going through after a 20-year-old gunman opened fire at the school, killing 20 kids and six adults.

That’s when she decided to work with local students in Hill City — population 900 — to offer a little bit of peace and hope to the Connecticut students more than 1,700 miles away by making paper cranes embedded with personal messages and prayers.

“When I saw the news about Newtown, my first thought was sadness and a feeling I wish I could do something,” said Acott, who taught elementary, middle and high school for 25 years before becoming a professional artist. “I know that everybody in the whole nation was feeling the same thing. They wish they could do something. Kids especially don’t know everyone wishes they could do something unless they see evidence of it.”

With the paper cranes, which are a symbol of peace and hope for the future, kids are able to see the outpouring of support, she said.

Acott teamed with the Hill City Arts Council and on the Friday before Christmas break, headed to the Hill City School District to lead a crane-making session with a third-grade class. Middle and high school students helped the third-graders.

The students have created about 150 cranes so far and are encouraged to take paper provided by the Arts Council home so they can create more, said Lori Jones, art teacher at Hill City School District.

“They almost saw the significance of it, that their little bird was going to go so far and really be a happy thought for those kids to know that the rest of the world cared,” she said.

Mary Sanders, a seventh-grader, made four paper cranes. The 12-year-old called the Newtown incident “really bad” and said it was hard to believe someone could do that.

The cranes from Hill City will eventually be sent to Bethel High School, a nearby school in Connecticut that is working to create 1,000 cranes for every person killed at Sandy Hook, said Kristin Donnan Standard with the Hill City Arts Council.

The Hill City organizers hope to expand the project to other schools, she added. Acott also hopes to donate a large bronze sculpture she created to Sandy Hook. The 15-foot female figure holds folded cranes over her head as a gesture of peace.

Artistic donations from all over the world have poured in to Newtown following the shooting, said Lisa Scails, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, one of three organizations working to coordinate arts-focused relief efforts.

Donations to the effort, called Healing Newtown, include original artwork, photos, music, performance events and workshops, among other things, Scails said. Art therapist have also offered to donate their time for workshops and programming for the community.

“We’re really very fortunate that the love that has poured into the community has been overwhelming,” Scails said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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