AYER — As Japan continued to suffer the after-effects of the earthquakes and tsunami that caused significant devastation, members of an Ayer Page Hilltop School second-grade class are learning all they can about a place so rich in culture.

The second-graders have done a unit on Japan in the past, but after the tragedy hit, they decided to incorporate Japanese lessons immediately into their curriculum.

“We thought this unit would provide great teachable moments to help our students become more aware of the world around them,” second-grade teacher Lindsay Mele said.

Mele’s team said they are most proud of the 1,000 Paper Cranes Project. Japanese legend states that when you fold 1,000 origami cranes, a wish will come true. So if second-graders created these cranes, they thought they could send a wish for the Japanese people to have a speedy and safe recovery.

During this ambitious paper-folding initiative, the Osh Gosh Co. pledged to send one article of clothing to Japan for every crane made.

“It’s wonderful that we can send positive wishes and clothing, with Osh Gosh’s help, to the people of Japan,” Mele said. “An added benefit is showing our children how they can make a difference in the world.”

Mele’s class didn’t just work on cranes; they also spent time learning about Japanese culture. They read Tree of Cranes by Allen Say, Chieri Uegaki’s Suki’s Kimono and The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima. They also completed several hands-on, multisensory projects and lessons that focused around Japanese geography, festivals and celebrations, school life in Japan and Haiku writing.

The students also enjoyed making a sweet version of a traditional Japanese food — sushi. They rolled Twizzlers acting as red peppers and Swedish Fish in Rice Krispie treats and wrapped them with fruit roll-up “seaweed.” The 7- and 8-year-olds then got to gobble them up using chopsticks.

“They were really good,” said student Emily Bostwick. “I’m bringing some home to share with my mom and dad and maybe my brother.”

Learning about other countries and cultures is part of the second-grade social-studies frameworks. But more importantly, Mele hoped that taking the time to understand another culture would help students better understand their own learning experiences and put them into perspective.

“We watched a video about a day in a Japanese school,” Mele said. “Students got to see how important routine and ritual is in Japan, and even how the students take the time out of each day to help clean their school and classrooms. The older students in Japan have huge responsibilities — especially involving the younger children. Our students become more conscious of ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?’ ”

Mele and the rest of her team were pleased with how the unit went.

“Our hope was that first, even though our students live a world away from the tragedy in Japan, their efforts are still significant and they can help to make a difference,” Mele said. “We live in such a diverse country that any knowledge that can be gained about how other people live their lives will help our students become more accepting of cultures other than their own.”