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The Patriot-News, Christine Baker, Associated Press
ADVANCE FOR SATURDAY DEC. 31 AND THEREAFTER In this Nov., 17 2011 photo Good Hope Middle School art student Mady Clahane analyzes a watercolor she is working on for a holiday card in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — The watercolors of winter birds that eighth-grader Connor Patch of Good Hope Middle School has been creating for a holiday card design will be getting a wider audience than his family and friends.

His painting of either a blue jay or blue bird was chosen to be used on the 1,200 holiday cards that Cumberland Valley School District creates this year, art teacher Clayton Brant said.

"To have their work showcased in that grand of a way is pretty exciting for kids and their teachers," Brant said.

The tradition of sending cards at the holidays is still alive and well in many West Shore school districts, with student artwork often used for the design.

In Cumberland Valley, Patch's painting will be joined by bird watercolors completed by fellow eighth-grader Mady Clahane at Good Hope Middle School and Jenna Eberly of Eagle View Middle School.

The plan was to have a four-square design on the card featuring four birds, Brant said.

"I'm kind of, like, honored I'm being chosen to have my artwork showcased this way," Patch said.

Clahane said she never saw the district's holiday card before and is anxious to see the finished product and hopes to be able to send some to her friends and family.

"I thought it was a great idea. Artwork of the kids in their own school is something that should be shown," said Clahane, who painted a cardinal and chickadee.

The hardest part of the assignment was getting the right texture for the feathers, Clahane said.

"I'm trying to make sure it pops out of the page like it's a real bird," she said.

Patch said he wasn't trying to make his birds look like exact replicas, but to give them "kind of a more painted, natural feeling."

The task of creating the card design rotates among the three building levels in Cumberland Valley, and the superintendent gets the final choice, spokeswoman Tracy Panzer said.

"Feedback is always positive as recipients look forward to seeing what our students design from year to year," Panzer said.

Most of the 1,200 cards are sent to staff through inter-office mail before the holiday break.

A small number also is sent to the school board, Eagle Foundation board, PTO and booster representatives and local officials, Panzer said.

The cost is "a few hundred dollars," she said.

"I used it as further enrichment," building on watercolor skills the students learned last year, Brant said.

The card always features a holiday design, rather than a religious motif, Brant said.

"Cumberland Valley is such a diverse community, and the card goes out to the entire district, it limits what we can put on a holiday card," she said.

The card created in East Pennsboro Area School District this year will feature photographs of batik designs created by high school students.

Last year, high school students' photographs were used on the 550 cards created, said spokeswoman Katie Morgan, and the design task rotates among art teachers at other buildings as well.

Last year there were 65 photographs submitted for the card, Morgan said.

"We used three because we couldn't choose," she said.

Art teachers choose the theme each year, and this year's was three-dimensional batik art, which is created by painting a design in wax on cloth.

The superintendent and assistant superintendent, who pick the design, have to choose from a wreath with Panther paws, a collage of holiday designs, abstract gold stars on a blue background and a Santa hat on a Panther paw.

The other students' artwork will be hung in the administration building, Morgan said.

"We try to use more than one piece of art if possible," Morgan said.

She said the holiday card would be posted on the district website.

The cards are sent to staff, business partners and other school districts. The winning student or students each get 25 cards, Morgan said. The district has been creating the cards since 2001.

Sophomore Sabreen Nicholson said she and other students involved in the card-design worked on them during study halls and after school, as well as in some classes.

"It takes patience," Nicholson said of the batik process, which takes several days to complete.

Sophomore Amanda Gorman said students learned the technique in class, where they had to create a design based on African culture.

Art teacher Lisa Swartz drew one of the designs, which featured stars on a blue background. Senior Macarena Iglesias and others did the wax coloring, which is painstaking work.

In West Shore School District, the winning holiday card artwork is unveiled at the Dec. 15 school board meeting.

Students from throughout the district are invited to submit artwork, although the targeted age group rotates each year among elementary, middle and high school levels, said David Burnham, district art department chairman.

This year is the high school's turn, he said, but added he would take entries from any age student.

"This is a great opportunity for all the kids involved," Burnham said. "It validates the energy they put into working in the class," he said.

It also gives them a chance to think outside the classroom, he said.

Students sometimes need encouragement to enter, Burnham said, and not because they don't want to do the additional work.

He encourages students to be active in community art-related activities, ranging from art shows to contests like creating a coloring book for the Farm Show.

"It helps them feel good about what they do in class. We're teaching them to be young artists, which they can apply in non-lesson-plan scenarios," Burnham said.

Since the card is secular, students often choose subjects such as wildlife, winter landscapes, snows, cabins and trees, he said.

Burnham said he received encouragement from his art teacher when he was in high school, which fostered his creativity and boosted his confidence in his talents.

Camp Hill School District has been producing a district card using student artwork for at least nine years, said Peggy Curran-Hays, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

The task of designing the card shifts between the elementary and secondary levels, and this year it's the secondary's turn, Curran-Hays said.

A group reviews the submissions and picks one, she said, and the card is signed "CHSD Administration and Board of School Directors."

The district's card list includes staff, other superintendents, the school board, Lion Foundation board members and local officials.

Many districts reciprocate, Curran-Hays said, sending cards as well.

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