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Homework club chosen to represent Utah

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

This December, little origami reindeer, adorable snowmen made of wine corks, hand-painted wooden moose, and more will decorate Utah’s tree at the annual "Pathway to Peace," a part of the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The ornaments were handmade by the children of Park City’s Neighborhood Homework Club, a nonprofit organization created in 2005 for kids from kindergarten to sixth grade.

The club was selected to be part of the program, which begins on Dec. 6 with a lighting ceremony of the National Christmas Tree and the Pathway’s smaller trees, representing the states, District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. The festivities continue for three weeks with hundreds of thousands of visitors expected.

According to the club’s Director, Kristen Robinson, there are about four families and eight children traveling to Washington to stand on the White House lawn and watch as the tree they decorated is lit.

"It goes beyond homework," Robinson said of the club. "We work on a lot of community-service projects, and we are planning a lot of field trips to places like Thanksgiving Point and the Clark Planetarium."

The organization is also collecting pennies for Pennies for Peace, a project that raises money to buy school supplies for needy children in central Asia.

Robinson said she would like to bring in teachers and other speakers to talk with the kids and help the parents learn how they can assist in their children’s education.

The club meets once a week to work on homework, service projects and plan community events. Math teacher for the Winter Sports School, Eric Janes, is there to help field homework questions, which is one of the reasons 11-year-old Samantha Swain said she likes the program.

"It’s great because if you don’t get something in school, you know there’s someone here to help you with it," she said.

Eric’s wife, Tricia Janes, also attends with her two kids, Dakota and Kasey. She said that while she has seen some improvement in grades, "it’s really the attitude about doing homework that’s improved dramatically."

Samantha’s mother, Stacy Swain, said that the program has been a great experience for her family. "I’ve gotten to know the neighbors better, and the kids have learned to work together with all the ages interacting," Stacy Swain said. Her 8-year-old son, James, also attends the club.

Teaching older children to mentor and work together with younger children is one of the club’s goals, Robinson said. The program also aims to provide a positive learning environment and to make homework fun.

Neighborhood Homework Club consists of children, parents and teachers from neighborhoods near Jeremy Ranch. But as part of the club’s nonprofit status, Robinson is looking to develop more structured homework programs in other neighborhoods and schools across Utah. She is starting with a program at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School.

In order to help cover the cost of ornament supplies, travel and lodging for the club’s trip to Washington, the organization is making extra ornaments to sell to businesses.

How the National Christmas Tree came to be

In November 1923, organizers from the District of Columbia Public Schools were granted permission by first lady Grace Coolidge to raise a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House.

That Christmas Eve, 3,000 spectators looked on as President Calvin Coolidge lit a cut 48-foot Balsam fir. From 1924 to 1953, the tradition continued with live trees on and around White House grounds.

The ceremony returned to the Ellipse in 1954, and the program was expanded to include the "Christmas Pageant of Peace." Local and civic business groups put up smaller live trees to represent the 50 states, five territories and District of Columbia, forming the "Pathway of Peace."

The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is now a three-week program coordinated by the National Park Service. Visitors can enjoy the Pathway and living National Christmas Tree a Colorado blue spruce planted on the Ellipse Oct. 20, 1978 as well as nightly music performances and a model train displayed around the foot of the National Tree. Information compiled from the National Park Service’s Web site, http://www.nps.gov.


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