Like Santa’s elves working quickly for the upcoming holiday, for the last two weeks, a handful of fourth- and fifth-graders at Payson Elementary School have busily been creating ornaments for the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.
Last Thursday, a flurry of activity could be seen in Sharon Stevenson’s classroom as 20 students dabbed paint on one ornament, scribbled black marker on another, shook silver glitter on a javelina’s teeth and cut heart-shaped sunglasses out for a sun ornament.
Fourth-grader Emma Nelson explained his group was working on finishing a large, papier-mâché pot with Native American petroglyphs painted on the side. Petroglyphs included a ridge-nosed rattlesnake, turtle, ram and a bird — common symbols seen in Native American art.
Nelson proudly pointed out that he had helped construct a cardboard cutout of a saguaro for the side of the pot.
“I decided to make the ornaments because I thought it would be really cool,” he said. “I mostly worked on the amazing, old Indian pot. It turned out really fun.”
All of the ornaments created will be placed on the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree. This year, an 85-foot blue spruce is being harvested from the White Mountains in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
Known as the “people’s tree,” it is placed prominently on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol and decorated with 5,000 custom ornaments from around the state.
The students at Payson Elementary hope the five ornaments they create will proudly display Arizona for the country to see.
Students McKenzey Enos and Jordyn Crockett said they were working on filling in the black background for another ornament that looked like an Arizona sunset.
Brightly colored strips of tissue paper overlap to create a depiction of a sunset. Black marker was used to create cactus and trees in the foreground.
Asked why they decided to make this theme on the ornament, Enos said because Arizona has beautiful sunsets.
“People want to come to Payson to watch them,” she said.
Crockett said she learned a lot about Arizona from the project.
“The reason I am doing this is to learn more about Arizona. I know that Arizona has the hottest desert,” she said.
At other tables in Stevenson’s room, students worked on finishing a desert tortoise, a javelina and a sun.
PES teacher Kathy Crane said the students arrived at each ornament’s theme after a careful deliberation process. First, Crane and Stevenson explained a little bit of Arizona’s history and what makes it unique.
Samantha Hesson said she learned the state flower is a saguaro cactus blossom and the state bird is the cactus wren.
James Diamond said he had never done a project like this before. “This has been a quintessential two weeks, I think this was very exciting,” he said.
Then students brainstormed what ornaments would highlight Arizona best. Crane said she explained it to the students by asking, “What is a gift from Arizona that no other state has?”
After coming up with several drawings, students voted on the best ones.
The only requirement for the ornaments was that they had to be at least nine inches tall and durable enough to withstand a month’s worth of weather in Washington, D.C. Additionally, religious themes could not be used.
“I am really happy to get the kids involved on a national level,” Crane said. “We are the only Payson school doing it.”
Students used recycled materials to make most of the ornaments. Crane said this is important because after the ornaments are no longer needed they can be thrown away and are eco-friendly.