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Family members of Newbury Elementary School teacher Maureen Ouellette, who died this weekend, were overwhelmed with the number of origami cranes students made for her. Reading some of the inscriptions are, from left, Ouellette’s daughter, Shannon Walsh; her sister, Kristin Vaughn; and her husband, Joe Ouellette.

Maureen Ouellette knew more about inspiring children than she did about the laws of physics: In her Newbury Elementary School classroom, each child somehow became the center of her universe.

It was that ability to love that led this year’s students to make some 1,400 origami cranes in her honor — and some of her former students, now at Triton Regional High School, to make 1,500 more of the paper creations. Some include poetry; some are letters to a favorite teacher. Most common of all is a simple three-word phrase: “We love you.”

When Ouellette heard of those cranes, she pooh-poohed the idea because she would rather have seen the students learning. She’d also pledged to finish out the school year, a promise she could not keep.

Ouellette, 52, died Saturday of bone cancer. A sixth-grade English teacher who worked at the school for 21 years, she remained on the school’s faculty list, her absences covered by substitute teachers, and had worked just a few days before she went to the hospital.

Yesterday, her students said she would never be forgotten.

“She kind of just helped us find a voice, and she loved us, not just as students but like her own kids,” said Emma Shea, now a seventh-grade student. “She had that connection with us.”

Another former student, ninth-grader Emma Peditto, visited last year, when she was nervous about starting at Triton High. Ouellette comforted her former student and told her she’d be fine. She was fine, but she was also thankful for the advice.

Peditto said her teacher was more than a teacher. She was a friend.

“She always used to call us her little doves and she’d kiss me on the forehead, and before you left her classroom, she’d say, ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow. See you tomorrow.’ I can just hear her saying it in my head,” Peditto said yesterday.

One of the most valuable lessons: “She taught me to believe in myself and to never give up, even when it was really hard,” Peditto said.

Ouellette followed the same lesson. She fired her doctors three weeks ago because they were too negative; she called them Doctors Doom and Gloom. When a nurse asked her to describe her pain on a scale of 10, she said it was 2.

“Her two was someone else’s 20,” said husband Joe Ouellette.

The idea for the paper cranes comes from a true story of a Japanese girl named Sadako, who began folding a thousand paper cranes after she developed leukemia in Hiroshima’s aftermath. The story was one that Ouellette used, and her legacy at Newbury Elementary School will come through a poetry fund in her honor.

Ouellette created an annual poetry slam because the sixth-grade students tended to suffer from “senioritis” near the end of the school year, said her assistant and friend, Val Pearson. Poetry was a shorter form that students could focus on, and the students took charge of the poetry slam. Colleagues and students said Ouellette worked more as a mentor than a traditional teacher, and students were empowered as they learned.

Above all, her students were loved.

“The interesting thing I felt today, talking with the children, is they all felt they were special,” Pearson said yesterday. “Every kid thought he was the most important person in the world.”

Pearson said Ouellette taught children rather than English.

“She loved you, and she loved you, and that was that,” Pearson said.

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