South Huntington third graders received a very special honor: They designed the ornaments representing New York state on a tree outside of the White House as part of the "America Celebrates" ornament program. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Cecilia Dowd; Anthony Florio; National Christmas Tree Lighting; National Park Service

In one drawing in Viviana Polanco's third-grade dual language class at Maplewood Intermediate School in Huntington Station, there's the unmistakable depiction of the Statue of Liberty: her green-colored body with an arm aloft holding a yellow flame.

In addition to Lady Liberty, the picture, drawn by 8-year-old Rayan Saini, shows Manhattan's skyline in the background with a plane flying overhead.

Images of Rayan's drawing and those of 19 of his classmates were scanned and laminated on a type of glass or ceramic material to create Christmas tree ornaments. Next, volunteers hung the ornaments on a live Christmas tree representing New York State — one of 58 from across the country that will surround the National Christmas Tree, set to be lit up for the holiday season Wednesday night in Washington D.C.

Each tree at the President's Park ceremony will represent a state, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of Defense. The Maplewood students' efforts are part of the "America Celebrates" ornaments program run by the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Education.

The children in Polanco's class created drawings ranging from New York-centric foods like pizza, hot dogs and bagels, to the Montauk Lighthouse, beach and ocean scenes and a moose roaming in the bucolic woods upstate. On Wednesday, the young students talked about their handiwork being on the cusp of getting national exposure.

At first "It made me a little bit nervous," Rayan said about participating. "But then I started getting excited. I'm just happy that we got chosen."

Cora De Curtis, 8, drew a picture of Walt Whitman, because "he's a famous poet. I didn't just want to represent my state. I also wanted to represent my town." Like her classmates, De Curtis lives in Huntington Station, which is in the Town of Huntington, Whitman's birthplace. Whitman was born in 1819 in the town hamlet of West Hills.

Charlotte Jansson, also 8, said: "I think it's nice we got picked." She drew her version of the crystal ball dropped in Times Square as part of the annual New Year's Eve countdown, something she hasn't seen in person yet but hopes to in the future.

Polanco, who teaches the class in English and Spanish, called her students' participation "an amazing experience … I said to them that we had the opportunity to create an ornament based on what makes our state beautiful. So they each had the opportunity to think about what they know about New York."

At first, Polanco said, she didn't think the class realized "how huge this is. I don't think I realized how important this was until I did my own research. And that's when I realized the magnitude of this."

William Hender, the school's principal, said of the project: "We thought it was a wonderful opportunity, to be able to be recognized. We have such outstanding students here."

The school has students in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Hender highlighted Maplewood's diversity. According to the New York State Education Department statistics for the 2019-20 school year, the latest available, the student body was 47% Latino, 36% white, 9% Black, 4% Asian/Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 4% multiracial and 1% Native American. "We felt we were the perfect school to do these ornaments."

The South Huntington School District was invited to apply to participate in the ornament design program by the New York State Education Department, Hender said. He didn't know how many other school districts may have applied, and state education department officials did not immediately respond to a request for information.

When asked by the district's superintendent whether Maplewood would be interested in the ornament project, and whether Hender had a class in mind, he said "my first thought" was Polanco's dual language class.

 "It's a very diverse class. There's so much diversity in the state. We try to celebrate both here in South Huntington."

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