EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Riverside Christian School in East Grand Forks has been selected to represent Minnesota in the National Christmas Tree Celebration in Washington, D.C., this year.
Riverside is the only school in Minnesota to be selected by the National Park Foundation for this honor, said Valerie Fulcher, marketing and events coordinator for the school.
Twenty-three middle school students each made handcrafted ornaments for the tree, which will be placed, along with 54 other trees representing states, territories and districts of the United States, near the much larger National Christmas Tree in the President’s Park by the White House.
A tree-lighting ceremony is set for Dec. 5, Fulcher said.
Fulcher submitted a letter in October asking if Riverside Christian School was eligible — as a private, Christian school — to participate in the National Christmas Tree Celebration. She learned about the opportunity from Eva Branvold, the school’s art teacher, who had worked at Midway Public School in Grand Forks County, which was selected to represent North Dakota for this project seven years ago, she said.
Under Branvold’s supervision, the students each created an ornament based on their teacher’s design. The plastic globes were provided by the National Park Foundation.
Her students drizzled and swirled blue and green paint inside half of the globe to emulate the Earth as seen from space. Then, inside, they placed a cutout of a vintage map of Minnesota, mounted on foamcore and laminated, with a tiny red heart on East Grand Forks, and decorated with tiny brush trees of various sizes and a foundation of “snow” made of fiberfill batting.
“They made it look like the world, and then kind of zooming in on Minnesota,” Fulcher said.
The ornaments have the same contents, but each is slightly different based on the preferences of the student, Branvold said.
“We got to choose the trees, and how many drops (of color) to put in,” said Faith Tuinder, 13, an eighth grader. “I like the painting part of it because I like to paint. And I liked the fluffy stuff we used for snow.”
Another eighth grader, Noble Gauss, 13, said: “I liked making the model.”
The map shows some town names, a tiny lake, and symbols representative of the state, such as deer, camping, lakeside resorts, Itasca State Park and waterfalls.
Along the top of the globe is a strip of paper with the typewritten phrase: “For God so loved the world, He created Minnesota.”
“We wanted to focus on our faith and God, so that’s partly why we chose that verse,” John 3:16, as a starting point, Branvold said.
Each globe is topped with a glittery, deep blue ribbon tied in a bow.
According to foundation rules, the ornaments could not contain any brand names, product marketing symbols or political elements, Branvold said.
This is Branvold’s first school year as a teacher at Riverside Christian. She teaches art to children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school has an enrollment of 155 students in preschool through eighth grade.
Once schools have expressed an interest in the project, they wait to receive word on whether or not they’ve been selected, Branvold said.
This is the first time Riverside Christian School has participated in a project such as this, said Fulcher, adding that she is unsure how many other Minnesota schools applied, but “we were just grateful that we were chosen."
The ornaments were sent Friday, Nov. 1, to Washington, D.C.
For the past two years, the students in grades six through eight have been raising funds for a May 2020 trip to the nation’s capital where they’ll learn more about the country’s history, Fulcher said. The trip “is a really big deal for them, and they are very excited for this opportunity,” she said.
This ornament project ramped up the students’ excitement surrounding next year’s visit to the nation’s capital, they said.
Though they won’t see the actual display, they will make a stop at the location where the Christmas trees were displayed, Branvold said.