56 trees surround the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park each year as part of the "America Celebrates" project displays ornaments made from students in each state, territory and districts of the U.S. Credit: Courtesy of Paul Morigi with the National Park Foundation

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle High School students will have a unique Christmas surprise to look forward to this holiday season.

The high school has been selected to design and donate 24 different one-of-a-kind ornaments that represent the state of Maine for the National Christmas Tree celebration in Washington, D.C., this year.

Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Education worked with state art and education agencies to identify elementary, middle and high schools whose students would create a variety of ornaments for the display.

A total of 56 schools and 1,500 students were chosen to participate in this year’s “America Celebrates” project, according to the National Park Service.

The project will feature 56 trees that will be displayed in President’s Park, each one decorated with 24 different ornaments representing all the states, districts and territories that make up the nation.

All of the ornaments will be open to the public between Dec. 9, 2019 through Jan. 1, 2020, in conjunction with the 97th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, according to the park service.

The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony began in 1923 when the District of Columbia Public Schools sent a letter to the White House proposing that a decorated Christmas tree be placed on the South Lawn of the White House.

That year on Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree — a 48-foot fir donated by Middlebury College in Vermont.

PIHS was the only school in Maine selected to design more than two dozen unique ornaments for the national project this year.

Ellyn Whitten-Smith, the art teacher at PIHS, said that this is the first year the school was chosen for the project.

Smith said that last year, her sister who teaches at Lawrence High School, organized the state ornament project to be displayed in the national celebration. She said the Department of Education asked her sister if the school wanted to do the project again this year but she said no.

“My sister in Presque Isle would kill me if I did this two years in a row,” Smith recalled her sister said after turning down the opportunity.

In September, Smith began planning to do the project with her sophomore art sculpture class. But time conflicts posed a challenge. The students were already working on another project at the time, Smith said and shortly after, they went on break for the annual harvest season.

This gave Smith and her students just two weeks to grind out 24 unique ornaments representing some part of the state.

She decided to take the project a step beyond the traditional depictions of coastal lighthouses, lobsters, buckets of blueberries or other things people would normally associate with Maine.

Encouraging them to use their own creative license, Smith told her students to create a design of what the state meant to them.

“Maine offers so much more than just the traditional — what people see in a postcard,” she said.

Students designed depictions of some of Maine’s well-known treasures including the puffin, blueberries, potatoes and fiddleheads, too.

“The students could do whatever they wanted,” Smith said, describing the students’ creations which vary from the iconic L.L. Bean Boot to whoopie pies and hot air balloons.

Stephen King will also be represented in one ornament in a vignette-style design of “IT”.

“You get to see how young people view their home and how they view it from different regions,” she said.