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Canyon to Capitol: Grand Canyon School chosen to make decorations for U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

Madelynski Anthony and Gema Torres, along with art instructor Kristin Zanos, traveled from the Grand Canyon to Washington D.C. for the National Christmas Tree lighting Dec. 5. (Photo/Kristin Zanos)

Madelynski Anthony and Gema Torres, along with art instructor Kristin Zanos, traveled from the Grand Canyon to Washington D.C. for the National Christmas Tree lighting Dec. 5. (Photo/Kristin Zanos)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — For two Grand Canyon students and a teacher, the beginning of December brought a bonus gift: a trip to the nation's Capitol to represent Arizona at the National Christmas Tree lighting Dec. 5.

Junior Gema Torres, senior Madelynski Anthony and high school art instructor Kristin Zanos packed their bags and headed north for a one-of-a-kind trip.

Each year, one school from each state is chosen to make decorations for one of 56 trees surrounding the National Christmas Tree at President's Park. This year, Grand Canyon was chosen to represent Arizona. Zanos, who led the project for the school, said the entire school participated, although ultimately only 24 were chosen to adorn the tree.

"We had each student draw out a design and submit it," she said. "Some worked individually and some collaborated with other students. The staff chose from the designs, and it was like the best and worst moment of my life - it was exciting to choose but then to tell the ones that weren't chosen ... "

The decorations were constructed from 12-inch clear plastic balls that the students decorated with paint or other multimedia objects. Zanos said the ornaments were themed around the state of Arizona, including state flowers, birds, scenery and culture.

Anthony, whose state flag design was chosen among the 24, said it was a one-of-a-kind experience.

“It was the first time I had ever flown before and I’m afraid of heights,” she said.

The best part of the experience was seeing the tree with all of her fellow students’ ornaments.

“It was really cool seeing them all there, and Cayli’s ornament with Merry Christmas in Navajo on the Visitor Center tree,” she said.

Torres, who collaborated on her ornament with fellow junior Rufus Keebahe, created a nighttime scene of the Arizona landscape familiar to Canyon residents - towering pine trees, starry skies and a deer on the horizon. Keebahe’s side of the ornament featured a similar daytime scene.

For Torres, all the excitement was focused on her school’s little tree.

“It was exciting seeing it there next to the others,” she said.

But the trio didn’t just go to Washington D.C. to see the trees and return home: they got to have the full capitol experience, including a bus tour around different stops in the city and several museums, including the Museum of the American Indian and the Japanese war memorial. The group even ventured to Maryland to take in some sights, eat authentic Mexican cuisine (one of the trip highlights for Torres) and riding a giant ferris wheel at Torres' urging - both Zanos and Anthony are afraid of heights.

Zanos said the most amazing part of the trip for her was seeing the students excited not just for themselves but for their peers.

“The first thing they did when we got there was point to the other ornaments made by their friends,” she said. “They grabbed their phones and said ‘Oh, there’s so-and-so’s ornament, I need to get a picture of it for her.”

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