'Once in a lifetime': Valley Point students create ornaments for Christmas tree display in D.C.

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Cara Gillean, left, and J.J. Torres, both 14, paint ornaments at Valley Point Middle School. Gillean painted President Jimmy Carter while Torres painted the state of Georgia.

DALTON, Ga. — When visitors from around the nation and world examine President's Park Christmas trees in Washington, D.C., this holiday season, they'll see ornaments crafted by students at Valley Point Middle School.

When she first learned about the unique opportunity, Olivia Dale, a seventh-grader in Kimberly Brumagen's study skills class, was "kind of scared," she said. "It's going to be outside the White House, and that's a lot of pressure," but, as she's grown accustomed to this project and put more time into her ornament, "I feel better about it."

Valley Point was selected by State School Superintendent Richard Woods to create 24 ornaments for the 2019 National Christmas Tree Experience: America Celebrates, and their creations will be on display from the 97th Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 5 throughout the month, according to Kris Horsley, communications specialist for Whitfield County Schools. The centerpiece of this celebration is the National Christmas Tree, which is accompanied during the season by 56 smaller Christmas trees, each one representing a U.S. state or territory. Each year, the trees are decorated with ornaments designed and created by individuals or groups from those states or territories.

"We don't usually get the opportunity to have our art seen like this by the public," said Jade Godfrey, another seventh-grader at Valley Point. "I was definitely surprised."

The America Celebrates display is one of the highlights of the National Christmas Tree Experience and is on the Ellipse in President's Park in the nation's capital, Horsley said. More than 250,000 people visit the display each year.

"I was kind of shocked" to receive this assignment, but "also excited," said seventh-grader Brice Holt, who wants to become a professional artist. "It's very interesting."

Valley Point learned it had been selected to create ornaments around the start of this school year, and then blank, ball-shaped ornaments were sent to the school from Washington, D.C., in mid-October, said Brumagen, who is in her first year teaching the study skills class at Valley Point. Ornaments had to be completed and sent back to the nation's capital by Nov. 1.

Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Education worked with state art and education agencies to identify elementary, middle and high schools whose students would create the ornaments for the America Celebrates display, according to the National Park Service. More than 1,500 students are participating in this year’s project, which is funded by the National Park Foundation.

The ornament project is a highlight of Valley Point's study skills class, but every minute in that room is enjoyable due to Brumagen's enthusiasm, Godfrey said. Brumagen "has a really exciting soul, and she pumps you up to do exciting things."

The study skills class is comprised of students in grades six through eight who want to learn additional artistic techniques, and Brumagen let her charges follow their creativity with the ornaments, the teacher said.

"We had some classic ideas, like the state flag, but some students went on their own, and I let them run with it," she said.

Dale chose Georgia's state flower, the rosa laevigata, or Cherokee rose, for her ornament's design, because "I've always liked flowers and thought it would be a good idea," she said. "It's pretty."

Georgia's state marine mammal, the North Atlantic right whale, which uses coastal Georgia as a calving ground, is depicted on Godfrey's ornament.

For Godfrey, it's paramount to "pay attention to the minor details," she said. "I want to make it as realistic as possible."

Holt, who has already sold some of his own art, elected to focus on the film history of Atlanta, "the Hollywood of the South," with his ornament, he said. That includes depictions of a classic windup camera and the skyline of Atlanta.

"Hopefully other artists will see it and recognize it" in Washington, D.C., he added. "I love art class, and I draw constantly at home."

Brumagen said students repeatedly asked her for time to decorate their ornaments this fall, rather than the teacher having to remind them of their projects.

"They're super excited, and they know the value of this honor," Brumagen said. "It's once in a lifetime, really."

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