Fifth grade students at Lee Elementary School are getting into the holiday spirit by lining the halls of the school with homemade wreaths they are creating in art class. These wreaths are a treasured tradition at Lee that goes back nearly 45 years. Starting in 1977 and every year since, all fifth graders create a wreath made completely out of recycled materials.

Traditional Lee wreaths displayed at holiday celebration, 1979

For art teacher Jennifer Parks, this tradition is a way to bring students together and build upon the community of proud Lee lions. Parks has been helping students create these paper wreaths for three decades, first as a fifth grade teacher and now as the art teacher. When she came into her new role in the art classroom, she was more than happy to keep the tradition alive.

Fifth grader adding her wreath to the Lee collection, 2021

“I believe teaching students about our [school] history is very important because it makes students part of something greater than just one person or experience,” says Parks. “When the students make the wreath, they become an active participant in our history. I love sharing our history with the students.”

Over the next weeks students will cut, crinkle and paint newspaper and other recycled papers to create a full and colorful wreath. Then they will customize their wreath with paint, ornaments, beads and other leftover materials before hanging it in the hallway for all students and staff to enjoy.

Students will take their wreath home at the end of the semester. For some, their wreath will be added to a family collection of Lee holiday wreaths. Parks, whose grown children both attended Lee, still proudly displays their wreaths in her classroom. 

As this generation of students takes part in this holiday tradition, Parks reflects on the lasting impact this project has not only on the school but also the students themselves. 

Hallways at Lee decorated with student’s handcrafted wreaths, 2014

“Students have a sense of pride when they create something with their own hands, and knowing that their effort and creativity brings joy to the entire school deepens that sense of pride,” says Parks. “I want them to know that this is their school and they can make it beautiful.”