Whatcom class gets ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to send holiday cheer to White House

·5 min read

If you’ve ever asked a 10- or 11-year-old to keep a secret about something exciting, imagine trying to keep a classroom full of 22 fifth graders from “spilling the beans.”

Somehow, Harmony Elementary teacher Michelle Hubbert accomplished that feat for the past two months.

“I tried to get them to focus on keeping a good secret, like about a birthday present,” Hubbert told The Bellingham Herald. “But it was not easy. They were so excited.”

And with a news release from the Mount Baker School District and the National Park Service Tuesday, Nov. 30, Hubbert and her fifth-grade students were finally allowed to tell parents and the rest of Whatcom County their secret.

And it’s a good one — the students recently used their artistic abilities and research of cultural diversity around the state to create ornaments for the 2021 National Christmas Tree display in President’s Park outside the White House in Washington D.C.

The Harmony fifth graders are the only classroom from Washington state to get the opportunity this year and are one of 58 schools across the nation and around the word to design ornaments to be displayed on the Ellipse in President’s Park, according to the release.

The ornaments will be highlighted during the “America Celebrates” display, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, on CBS.

“They are all so excited to watch, and they want to know how much their tree will be featured during the program,” Hubbert said. “This is such an exciting opportunity for them.”

A fifth-grade class in the Mount Baker School District’s Harmony Elementary made ornaments to be shown on a tree outside the White House in Washington D.C.
A fifth-grade class in the Mount Baker School District’s Harmony Elementary made ornaments to be shown on a tree outside the White House in Washington D.C.

National Christmas Tree display

The ornaments made by the Harmony students will be displayed on their own tree within President’s Park along with 57 other trees from the other schools and the National Christmas Tree, according to the release. The trees and their ornaments will be available to view in Washington D.C. from Saturday, Dec. 4, through Jan. 1, 2022.

The National Christmas Tree Lighting began in 1923, after a letter to the White House from the District of Columbia Public Schools proposed a decorated tree be placed on the South Lawn. On Christmas Eve of that year, President Calvin Coolidge pushed a button to light the first National Christmas Tree, a 48-foot balsam fir donated by Middlebury College in Vermont.

Since 1973, the National Christmas Tree has been a living tree planted by the National Park Service that highlights one of the country’s 423 national parks, according to the release. This year the tree will be a 27-foot white fir from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, and it was lit for the first time on Thursday, Dec. 2, during the 99th National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.

Every year, students representing every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia create ornaments to symbolize the history, heritage and culture of the regions they call home as part of the “America Celebrates” display, according to the National Tree website.

The 58 trees with student’s ornaments will surround the National Christmas Tree and will be highlighted Sunday. Some of the ornaments are already on display on the President’s Park Facebook page.

Showing Washington’s diversity

Near the beginning of the school year, the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction asked for classes that would be willing to represent the state and design ornaments to submit why they were interested in being considered.

“It was a perfect fit for us, because our social studies is focusing on the culture diversity and value of Native American communities in Washington,” Hubbert said.

In late September, Hubbert learned that her class had been selected.

Shortly afterward, she and her class began brainstorming ideas to include on the ornaments to show the diversity of culture within the state. Some of their ideas included:

The importance of Native American tribes in the state.

Agriculture, including berries and apples.

Bigfoot.

Coffee.

Orcas and salmon.

Evergreens and mountains.

“We wanted to include pieces that represented the east and the west of the state,” Hubbert said. “It was really great to see the kids get into researching things on the computer. They’d look at pictures and add things to the list.

“It was difficult to narrow down, because Washington is so diverse.”

A fifth-grade class in the Mount Baker School District’s Harmony Elementary made ornaments to be shown on a tree outside the White House in Washington D.C.
A fifth-grade class in the Mount Baker School District’s Harmony Elementary made ornaments to be shown on a tree outside the White House in Washington D.C.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

With 22 students and one teacher in the class, they were limited in the number of ornaments they could submit.

But Hubbert said the students did a good job of representing different parts of what makes Washington state so special. On one ornament, a student drew the shape of the state and then labeled each section where Native American tribes were from, Hubbert said.

“They learned how diverse our state is,” Hubbert said. “They couldn’t just focus on Whatcom County and what we knew close to home. That’s what we focused on during the brainstorming, and they learned how diverse a state we have and how different it is from east to west and how many cultures there are and how different we are from other states.”

They also learned something about each other. Hubbert said one student let their “artist talent shine” by free-handing an eagle for an ornament, leaving classmates and Hubbert amazed.

All told, Hubbert estimated the class spent about 20 hours working on the project, from researching to designing rough and final versions. The artwork was then scanned and sent as PDFs to the National Park Service by the Oct. 17 deadline so that the ornaments could be prepared in time for this weekend’s celebration.

Hubbert said she was unaware of any of the Harmony students’ families planning to travel to Washington D.C. to see the tree on display, but through social media she was able to contact a friend in the area who plans to make it to President’s Park to take pictures of the tree for the class.

“I loved that this made them learn how diverse our state is,” Hubbert said. “I also love that they took a real sense of pride in this project, and I’m so proud of the work they did. This really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them, and I think they got the most out of it.”

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