Nicole Blake, art teacher in Regional School Unit 38, with some of her students showing off their ornament designs. The students’ work will be reproduced onto ornaments to help decorate trees in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Nicole Blake

READFIELD — This holiday season, Christmas trees in Washington, D.C., will be decorated with a touch of Maine.

Twelve students from four of the elementary schools in Regional School Unit 38 were selected to come up with a design that represents the state that they live in.

RSU 38 was chosen after art teacher Nicole Blake showed interest in having her students participate. The district was the only one in Maine chosen to have its ornament designs hung on the Christmas trees in the National Christmas Tree display as part of the “America Celebrates Trees.”

“They told me that they wanted students in grades three or higher to produce an image that made them think of the State of Maine,” Blake said.

The event is from the National Park Services, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Park Foundation, in partnership with first lady Melania Trump. One school from each state is chosen to create the designs that will appear on the ornaments — some may even make it onto a tree inside the White House.

Blake heard about the contest at the beginning of September, through a weekly newsletter that she gets from the Maine Department of Education.

When she heard in October that she was chosen to represent Maine, she joked that she asked if she was the only one that applied, but Jason Anderson, a Maine DOE visual and performing arts specialist, said that schools were selected on a lottery basis.

“Because we did not have a huge window with which to adjudicate programs or product from those schools that were interested, we at the DOE decided that a lottery was the fairest method for selection,” Anderson said. “Nicole and Maranacook schools were selected, and we were required to obtain approval from the White House prior to working with her and her students on the project.”

What Blake calls an “amazing honor,” she also said was a great challenge in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

RSU 38 schools have an in-person, five days a week schedule, but Blake, who teaches art at three of the elementary schools, sees her 200 students in grades three through five that were participating on a bi-rotational schedule.

The two-week time frame given for the contest would not work, so Blake asked for an extension and was granted a month. By Nov. 13, she was able to submit the students’ work, which ended up only being around a couple class periods that the students were able to work on their designs.

And, only 12 students could submit their designs to the national level. Teachers had to separate the kids’ names into four cups, for the four elementary schools, and three names were chosen for each.

“I ended up having the 12 students come to the classroom after school, and had all of the desks spaced apart and helped them work through a plan for drawing and coloring,” Blake said. “Then I color scanned their work and sent it to Washington, D.C., where they told me they would have a skilled artist replicate the student’s design on the ornament with paint.”

To help students come up with their designs, Blake showed them a presentation that had Maine symbols and images, including lighthouses, Maine Coon Cats and Moxie.

Students decided to draw images of blueberry pies, black bears, pine trees and moose.

Hadley Stevenson, left, and Lyra St. Pierre show off their ornament designs. Photo courtesy of Nicole Blake

“I think that it is cool that my artwork is going to Washington, D.C.,” said fifth grade student Zeeva Curtis, who created a design featuring a loon on a blue and purple lake with green pine trees in the background. “I loved doing it, it was fun to make them.”

Hadley Stevenson, a fourth grade student, decided to include blueberry pie on her ornament because her Meme makes it for her.

Third grader Jackson Bennett drew a lighthouse for his design.

“I like that we got to do something that was about our state, and that I got to go to another school and meet students that were doing the project,” Bennett said. “I like how mine turned out. I have seen a lighthouse before and I think it came close.”

Since most of her students were not able to send an ornament to Washington, Blake laminated all 200 designs and had the students paste them onto cardboard paper and decorate them with glitter. She hung them up in the schools’ hallways.

“I wanted all the students to feel important and like they were recognized for their contribution and their artwork,” Blake said.

Students were invited, along with a guardian, to attend the decorating in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday where they would see their ornaments be placed on the trees. However, Blake said that it was too difficult with the coronavirus for any of the chosen students, or her, to attend.

Blake said that she wishes that the 12 students will be sent the physical ornament that was placed on the National Christmas trees, but does not know if that will be a possibility.

What students, their families and friends, are able to do is virtually watch the trees get decorated with the Maine ornaments. The students do not know what trees or where in the park their artwork has been placed, but are hoping to receive some photos of the ornaments on the trees.

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