by Moira Cullings
TOPEKA — Christmas came early for students of Most Pure Heart of Mary School here.
Mary Kate Berryman’s fourth grade class was selected to design ornaments for the Kansas Christmas Tree in President’s Park in Washington, D.C.
Their reaction when they heard the news?
“Very excited,” said Most Pure Heart art teacher Carrie Jo Gros. “The first question was, ‘Do we get to go to Washington?’”
Although the students did not travel to Washington, D.C., they had the opportunity to watch the tree lighting ceremony on TV.
Fifty-eight schools across the country and abroad were chosen to create ornaments for the display, which can be viewed through January 1, 2022.
Most Pure Heart shared the honor with Leawood Middle School, and 12 ornaments from each school were chosen.
“Mrs. Berryman’s class was chosen because of their dedication,” said Gros, “[but] also because of their size.
“Because we were only able to send 12, a smaller class meant a higher percentage of the students would be able to have their ornaments chosen.”
The students were given some tips before they got creative.
Barbara Waterman-Peters, an award-winning local artist, created a Kansas ornament for the presidential tree in 2002. She talked with students of Most Pure Heart via Zoom in September to offer them inspiration.
Andrew Etzel of the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism provided the students with research materials, including an issue of Kansas Magazine.
Gros said sunflowers were amply represented among the students’ designs, as well as images from the state seal and icons representing Kansas, such as buffalo and cottonwood trees.
The drawings were scanned and emailed to D.C., and the National Park Service printed the images on large discs for volunteers to place on the tree.
Most Pure Heart principal Eric White said an opportunity like this “brings exposure to Catholic education on a national scale.”
“Catholic schools, to participate in something on a national scale, is not only an honor — it is a privilege,” he said. “Being chosen means our schools are getting noticed for their excellence here in Kansas.”
White said it was also a great lesson for the students who participated.
“Not only were they given the opportunity to participate in creating the ornament,” he said, “[but] they learned about geography, the artistic process, public relations and leadership as they represented our school on a national level.”
Gros believes it’s a memory that will stand out to the students for years to come.
“I hope that they also gained an understanding of the artistic process that professional artists go through when they are given an assignment,” she said.
“This was an incredible journey to walk through with the students,” she continued. “It was fun to see the amount of enthusiasm and attention to detail as they planned out their ornaments and made artistic choices.
“They are all very proud of the work they have done — as they should be.”
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