Last fall, Renee Gavigan was about three weeks into her student teaching at an elementary school in Black River Falls when her cooperating teacher told her that she had to modify a lesson she had written.

Fortunately for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire art education major, the changes were needed for an exciting — though completely unexpected — reason.

Turns out, her cooperating teacher, Jen Dahl, and her students at Red Creek Elementary School were selected to make ornaments to be featured this year during the National Christmas Tree Lighting event in Washington, D.C.

Gavigan’s leaf printing lesson was modified so it could be incorporated into the design of the 24 tree ornaments that would represent Wisconsin this year.

“Typically, older students are selected so being able to represent K-5 art was incredible,” Gavigan says, explaining that each year the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction selects one teacher and group of students to create the state’s ornaments. “It allowed us to showcase how awesome young artists can really be.”

Gavigan and Dahl facilitated student art projects featuring a variety of things that represent Wisconsin, including honeybees, butterflies, birds, plants, woodland creatures and cranberries.

They displayed the art on a six-sided cube, which made it possible to include more students’ art on each ornament.

The final ornaments featured art from students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Gavigan’s lesson involved second graders, who created prints of maple trees for one panel of the cube.

“My role as a student teacher allowed me to write my own lesson and modify it as one of the sides of the final ornaments,” says Gavigan, who will graduate this month with a degree in art education and a certificate in French. “The whole process took about three months from start to finish.”

Every year, ornaments are made for 6-foot trees that represent every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia. The trees surround the National Christmas Tree and make up the “American Celebrates” display, which is open to visitors throughout December.

Earlier this month, Gavigan traveled with Dahl and the school’s principal to Washington, D.C., to see the display that featured their students’ art.

“This was my first time in D.C., and to be able to go with my cooperating teacher and principal at my placement was amazing,” says Gavigan, a native of Fitchburg. “I never expected when going into student teaching to be involved in this type of opportunity.

“In Washington, D.C., we watched the president’s tree lighting and saw many sites. It was one of the most memorable times for me here at UWEC.”

— Submitted by University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire