D-B EXCEL students' ornaments to be on display near White House

Matthew Lane • Updated Nov 5, 2019 at 3:00 PM

KINGSPORT — The artistic abilities of students from D-B EXCEL will be on full display in our nation’s capital next month.

At 56 schools across the country, students have created one-of-a-kind ornaments for this year’s National Christmas Tree display on the Ellipse in President’s Park. The 82-acre park surrounds the White House, and as with Christmases past, the National Christmas Tree will be on display surrounded by 56 smaller trees, which 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 will participate in this year’s project, which is funded by the National Park Foundation.

Sara Leimkuhler, the digital arts instructor at D-B EXCEL, explained how her students were chosen to participate in the project.

“I got an email in September from ... Nashville, and they had heard about the work our digital art students had been doing and recommended we do the ornament designs for the National Christmas Tree this year,” Leimkuhler said. “They sent us guidelines and specifications, and the students started at the beginning of October.”


All of the ornaments used in the America Celebrates display are 5.5-inch plastic globes, which were sent to the participating schools. It was up to each school to figure out how to decorate them. They could paint them, use pictures or place other decorative items inside the globes.

Since D-B EXCEL was selected because of its digital art prowess, Leimkuhler said students first sketched out their ideas on notepads, then used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create colorful and unique digital images for the ornaments. The images were of things noteworthy to Tennessee, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, country music, the state bird (mockingbird) and flower (iris), Dolly Parton, Graceland and Nashville.

“Students conducted research on Tennessee, for things that make Tennessee different,” Leimkuhler said.

The work took about four weeks. Students submitted their ideas, Leimkuhler provided feedback, and then with some more back and forth discussions, the final product came about: 24 ornaments best representing the Volunteer State.


The America Celebrates display will begin on Dec. 5 with the 97th annual National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. Leimkuhler and Shanna Hensley, principal of D-B EXCEL, are planning to attend the event.

“The programs these kids used are industry certifications they can ultimately get,” Hensley said. “It’s a skill they’re learning that’s going to serve them once they leave us.”

For more information about the America Celebrates display, visit thenationaltree.org.