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SD Department of Education
Dec. 2019  

TEACHER FEATURE: Sisseton students decorate ornaments for National Christmas Tree display

Students of Alexis Monroe, the art teacher at Sisseton Middle School, have created ornaments to adorn the tree representing South Dakota as part of the 2019 National Christmas Tree display. We reached out to Alexis to learn more about her classroom and this special project.

“We are genuinely honored to be chosen for this rare opportunity,” Monroe said. “The students have showcased their ability to create a visual of an idea, all while learning new art techniques in a small amount of time.”

One student worked through the anniversary of a parent’s death by designing an ornament featuring the words, “Honor the Earth, our Mother.” The student didn’t realize the connection between the idea and the poignant anniversary until the project was done.

“Art is powerful,” Monroe said. “Words cannot describe how proud I am of all of them.”

“The ornaments created by our students are truly special and depict many aspects of the various lifestyles, cultures, and natural beauty of our state,” said Sisseton Middle School Principal Michael Drew. “We are extremely proud of Mrs. Monroe and our students for representing Sisseton Middle School and the state of South Dakota at the National Christmas Tree celebration this year.”

Why is art important?
Monroe: In a school setting, art is important for many reasons. Art can help calm students by refocusing one’s frame of mind while also creating a challenging experience that welcomes free thinking. Art allows students to feel vulnerable, excited, sad, thoughtful, independent, and erratic, and provides a positive channel to communicate these emotions. The work created in and out of an art room can help students dive further into their school and communities, building connections with people and places and generating an established sense of pride.

What benefits do you see your students get out of art classes?
Monroe: My students benefit from art through being able to express their own creativity, emotions, and ideas. They also feel like they can relax and focus on improving their skills by challenging themselves. One student feels that she’s able to empathize with other artists when she studies work done by other people, allowing her to experience what they felt while undergoing the creative process.

What surprises your students about art, whether they’re creating it themselves or observing/learning about it?
Monroe: Students are surprised at how much they can use their own imagination to create a work of art and by the new skills they learn. They’re also surprised about how different art can be, whether it’s public or private, something to be put on display versus the experience of making it, or created by anyone on the street as opposed to a world-famous artist. Students are drawn to art the more they observe it and surprise themselves when they learn how to improve their own work by learning from someone else.

How do you incorporate South Dakota art and artists into your teaching?
Monroe: The Sisseton Middle School classroom has supported South Dakota artists, both present and past. Resources provided by the University of South Dakota help teach the life and work of Oscar Howe. Students have created a small mural of one of his paintings, Eagle Dancer, that hangs on the wall in a common area.

Another resource we utilize is the Artists in Schools and Communities program coordinated by the South Dakota Arts Council, through which 10 artists from a roster are selected to be in our school district for 10 different weeks out of each year.

Through the Art Educator’s Institute at Northern State University each summer, I’m able to take classes from working artists from South Dakota to further build my practice for my students.

Throughout the school year, conversations about South Dakota art and artists come up in various presentations and discussions. Most recently, students learned the importance of public art through works by John Lopez and Dale Lamphere.

Sisseton Middle School is one of 56 schools across the country, where students created one-of-a-kind ornaments for the 2019 National Christmas Tree display on the Ellipse in President’s Park. These handcrafted ornaments adorn 56 smaller trees that surround the National Christmas Tree. The 56 trees represent each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia as part of the America Celebrates display.

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 the ornaments for the America Celebrates display. More than 1,500 students participated in this year’s project. The project is funded by the National Park Foundation.

For more event information and updates, visit www.thenationaltree.org or follow President’s Park on Facebook or Twitter. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #NCTL2019.

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