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Christmas Trees in front of Washington D.C

“A Sparkle in Their Eye”

Idaho Arts Public Charter School represents Gem State in The National Christmas Tree: America Celebrates Ornament Display Project  

by Lindsay Trombly

High school art rooms are usually chaotic and full of energy. Students clan together in groups at tables to chat and kibbitz about their school work, with art supplies scattered about. 

But one day, recently, was different at Idaho Arts Public Charter School in Nampa. 

Silent anticipation engulfed the classroom. 

Students sat arm-in-arm with their peers, staring at the projector, waiting to see if their art submission had been chosen by their teacher to submit for a national competition in Washington D.C. As their teacher scrolled through the original artwork, they saw colorful ornaments full of nature, symbols, and places representing the best of the Gem State. The class clapped and cheered celebrating their special achievement — together.  

A student illustrates Idaho's state butterfly, using online images for reference.
A student illustrates Idaho’s state butterfly, using online images for reference. Photo courtesy, Idaho Arts Charter School.

“Something really great about our school culture is that we are always cheering each other on, it’s not about who won, it’s about celebrating each other’s achievements,” First year art teacher Annie Polly shared. “As a school that represents the arts, it’s huge for us to represent Idaho – it’s a huge honor.”  

This year, one school from every state or territory in the U.S. was chosen to have ornaments made from original student artworks adorn Christmas trees in Washington D.C.’s President’s Park, as part of the National Christmas Tree Lighting celebration. 

Each state will have its own tree, and a plaque displaying the chosen school’s name next to it.  

Idaho Arts Public Charter School was chosen to represent the Gem State. 

According to the project’s website, the National Christmas Tree Lighting started in 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge strolled from the White House to the Ellipse, to light a 48-foot fir tree decorated with ornaments. This year marks the celebration’s 98th anniversary.  

Executive Director of Idaho Arts, Jackie Collins, and Polly both agree; it has been an honor for Idaho Arts to be selected, and to represent the art community of Nampa. Collins said the students enjoy showcasing their talent for a larger audience.  

A student colors in their Christmas ornament with colored pencil
A student illustrates a landscape for their ornament entry. Photo courtesy Idaho Arts Charter School.

Polly was excited for her students to meet the moment. She said because of COVID-19, she believes students have been yearning for opportunitieto express themselves and share their artwork with the broader community. She said students are eager to demonstrate their capabilities. And presenting the contest opportunity to them put a “sparkle in their eye.” 

The contest was open to all her high school students in Art 1, Art 2 and Studio Art classes. One middle schooler was also inspired by the contest, and submitted a digital artwork of Shoshone Falls – which will also grace the boughs of the tree.   

The digital artwork submission of Shoshone Falls
The digital artwork submission of Shoshone Falls which will appear on the Idaho Christmas tree in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of Idaho Arts Charter School.

“Our students did these designs for the Christmas bulbs and put their talent and hearts into each one, not knowing whether they would be selected as the final winner, but just for the work and opportunity,” Collins said. “To be selected will be an honor for those 24 students.”  

Polly helped inspire students’ artwork by having them illustrate the beauty in Idaho through places they like to go, and other representations of Idaho such as the state bird, state flower, and other state symbols. She took all designs into consideration before choosing the 24 artworks to be submitted, because she said it’s such a great opportunity for young artists. 

“Boise in general is such a hub for creativity and there are so many contests and ways for the community to collaborate on artistic projects. I tell them [my students] if you take advantage of all these things, if you want to pursue a career in art – that is the way to do it,” Polly said. “Because it’s putting your name out there and making your style, and your face, familiar to the community. And then, it carries on, and goes out to bigger communities. This could add to the development to your career.” 

The ceremony will be held on Thursday, December 2nd, and will be hosted and include musical performances by LL Cool J.  CBS will broadcast the ceremony on Sunday Dec. 5 (8:30-9:30 PM, ET/8-9PM, PT) The display will be open to the public from Dec. 4 – Jan 1.  See the full list of participating schools here. 

Idaho Arts Charter School is a Bluum partner school and has received grant support from the J.A and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and from Idaho’s Communities of Excellence federal Charter Schools Program grant. 

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