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Christmas in D.C.: MAMS ornaments on Pennsylvania’s tree

By Dan Miller

Posted 10/31/18

It’s a secret Stacey Miller and her eighth-grade art students at Middletown Area Middle School had to keep under wraps for nearly two months.

But now, the White House says it’s OK to …

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Christmas in D.C.: MAMS ornaments on Pennsylvania’s tree


It’s a secret Stacey Miller and her eighth-grade art students at Middletown Area Middle School had to keep under wraps for nearly two months.

But now, the White House says it’s OK to shout it from the rooftops.

Out of all their peers across the state, Stacey Miller’s eighth-grade art students were picked to decorate 24 ornaments to hang on the tree that represents Pennsylvania as part of the 2018 National Christmas Tree exhibit in Washington, D.C.


Middletown students make ornaments for Governor's Mansion


Fifty-six smaller trees — one for each state, U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia — surround the Colorado blue spruce from Virginia that is the National Christmas Tree, located on the Ellipse in President’s Park not far from the White House.

Students from one school from each of the 56 states, territories and D.C. were chosen to decorate the ornaments to represent their respective tree.

Miller’s first inkling something was up came in early September, when an official with the arts and humanities division of the Pennsylvania Department of Education called to ask if Miller and her students would be interested in decorating the ornaments for the state tree in Washington, D.C.

She believes her class was chosen based largely on the exposure she has been able to get for the art work done by her students, due to the special projects Miller has done for PDE over the years.

Miller has done a lot of art curriculum writing for the department, including presentations she has given in Pittsburgh and in Texas.

Miller uses the work of her art students to illustrate and “back up” the concepts of her research.

“I always get comments like, ‘That’s eighth-grade work? That’s a middle-schooler doing that? They do great work,’” Miller told the Press & Journal. “I’m lucky. I get surrounded by great artists all the day.”

“Their heads spun” when Miller told her students that they had been chosen to decorate the ornaments for the Pennsylvania tree. “They were like, ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’”

The White House sent her class 48 undecorated ornaments, each cut in half for the students to place art work inside as well as on each ornament itself.

Each ornament would represent a different county or place in Pennsylvania. The students drew slips of paper from a bowl to get their assignment.

Alexus Bowers had the somewhat daunting task of figuring out how to represent all of Philadelphia with one ornament.

She thought of a cheesesteak. Miller wasn’t sure how well that would come across on a small ornament, so she  suggested Bowers go online and research the history of Geno’s and Pat’s, the two iconic cheesesteak shops that compete across the street from one another in Philly.

Bowers also painted the city skyline and fashioned a Liberty Bell from paper clay to go inside her ornament.

“This is a big deal because we represent the state,” Bowers said.

Jaron Imler focused on State College and Penn State University for his ornament representing Centre County. Miller said the While House wouldn’t permit logos on the ornaments, so Imler did a water color of a mountain lion to depict the Nittany Lion. On the other side he drew some of the monuments and statues that are in front of Old Main.

“It’s a big honor,” Imler said. “They could have chosen any big artist in Pennsylvania, but they decided to choose our school. It’s a great opportunity for us to show our art.”

Each ornament was something of a research project for the students.

“That’s what art is,” Miller said. “It’s not just about the materials, it’s the understanding (of) what makes that thing special. Not every kid is a natural artist. We want them to get better at research and definitely using their hands and how you can express that through multiple materials and multiple ways, so that learning becomes less about a test and more about living that thing and making something tangible.”

Miller had all 48 of her students each decorate one ornament. Only 24 could be sent to the White House, so Miller had her fellow faculty members vote on which ornaments should be selected.

Some of the ornaments not chosen for the tree exhibit in Washington will be included in a separate photo exhibit to be displayed by PDE, Miller said.

The National Christmas Tree Lighting started in 1923, when the White House received a request from District of Columbia public schools that a decorated Christmas tree be placed on the South Lawn of the White House.

That Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge pushed a button to light the first National Christmas Tree, a 48-foot fir donated by Middlebury College in Vermont.

This year, the 96th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place Nov. 28. The event will include live musical performances and special guests.

The festivities continue from Dec. 1 through Jan. 1 with a daily lighting of the National Christmas Tree, free evening musical performances, and a chance to see up close the trees and ornaments that celebrate Pennsylvania and the 55 other states and territories and the District of Columbia, according to a White House press release.

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