Valley Pathways School

Students at Valley Pathways School decorated ornaments that will be on display at President’s Park.

PALMER — New to the Valley but a sourdough Alaskan, Valley Pathways teacher Robin Lockwood hoped she could emulate her mother and showcase a small piece of her students’ talent on the national stage.

In her first application, the National Parks Service awarded 24 of Lockwood’s students at VPS the opportunity to decorate ornaments that will be on display on trees in President’s Park as part of the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.

“I hadn’t even known or met my kids before I applied, but just knowing what an honor it would be to be able to represent Alaska and knowing how artistic our students are here at Valley Pathways, I knew that they would be excited for the challenge and the opportunity,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood received information on how to apply from the State Board of Education and Early Development newsletter before school began. Robin’s mother, Sarah Lockwood, taught at Denali Elementary in the Fairbanks Northstar Borough and inspired her daughter to have her students decorate ornaments for the national Christmas trees. President Calvin Coolidge lit the first national Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in 1923, and this year over 1,500 students from each state, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands will participate in decorating ornaments that will be placed on 56 smaller Christmas trees around the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park. The ornaments will be placed on the trees between December 9 of 2019 through New Year’s Day. Thursday, December 5 will be the 97th annual National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. This year’s National Christmas Tree will be a blue spruce from Colorado.

“I am a first year teacher here in the district, so I thought that it would take longer to be able to have this opportunity but I’ve learned so much from the experience and so much from my kids that I definitely will try again,” Lockwood said.

The ornaments were sent to Washington D.C. on Friday. After receiving word that Lockwood’s application for Valley Pathways students to decorate ornaments came through, Lockwood’s students began the actual work. Originally, Lockwood hoped to recreate a topographically accurate map of Denali to display inside the ornaments. With the help of Pathways teacher Will Reeder, silhouettes of ‘The Great One’ were made on the school’s 3-D printer. A total of 20 students from Lockwood’s earth science class and four students from Lockwood’s geometry class participated in decorating the ornaments. Students first painted firewood inside the plastic globes supplied by the NPS. Throughout the process of decorating the ornaments, Lockwood was able to connect with students who may otherwise have struggled.

“Now there are students who are so excited to share with me their day and their personal life stories because we can talk about art other than talk about earth science or geometry,” Lockwood said. “I think that I hit a nerve in a positive way that he was able to show me that he is successful in something and so you want to work for someone who is able to tell you that they’re proud of you and that you’re successful.”

Though Valley Pathways offers no art classes, students painted spruce trees inside the ornaments for Christmas trees in our nation’s capitol. Students of all skill levels in arts provided individual detail of fireweed and spruce trees that surrounded the silhouette of the tallest mountain on the continent.

“These students are so unrepresented in multiple ways that it is just awesome that we not only get to represent our district but our state and they were just overjoyed,” Lockwood said.

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