Sprawling across two 6-foot-long tables placed end to end, the Nativity display that greeted visitors to St. Clement of Rome School this past Christmas would have been impressive if only for its size.
But making the scene all the more spectacular was the fact that it was the handmade creation of about 100 students – seventh graders working in pairs with their buddies in pre-K4.
“The joy of Christmas was expressed in their cooperation as they worked together, especially when you watched the older students being so loving and nurturing to the younger ones as they taught them, really, what Christmas is all about,” noted Chad Howat, St. Clement’s principal.
Howat came up with the idea of a student-made Nativity after Greg Livaudais, a St. Clement parishioner, invited his fellow parishioners to bring in their personal Nativity sets to display in Vosbein Hall during Advent. As a result, 162 Nativity sets were displayed over the weekend of Dec. 10-11.
“Our principal thought this would be a good project for our seventh graders and their pre-K4 buddies to do together,” said pre-K4 teacher, Sue Miner, noting that the two age groups enjoy monthly get-togethers throughout the school year, including picnics and craft activities.
“I immediately thought because it would be involving over 100 students, we couldn’t do just one small Nativity,” Miner said, “so I started thinking about a hundred things that we could be doing. By doing extra angels, stars and sheep, everyone was able to participate.”
Two-liter soda bottles were filled with sand to form the base of the Nativity’s three main groupings – the shepherds, the Holy Family and the three Wise Men, while cardboard cylinders from used wrapping paper rolls were used to make the trunks of palm trees. The stable was fashioned out of a large box, and the many figures were dressed in fabric from old upholstery books and decorated with pebbles, Mardi Gras beads and rick-rack. Most of the items were glued or stapled into place, to make the project doable for prekindergarten hands. Still, the youngsters learned some more complex skills, such as how to make the display’s palm fronds stand up using wire and florist tape. Jesus’ crèche was made out of an old craft standby: popsicle sticks.
“It’s somewhat out of proportion, but that’s OK. You can tell the students created it,” said Miner, adding that most of the work was completed during religion class.
“Even with the age difference, they worked quite well together. Our seventh graders knew to let their little buddies do the things they were capable of, such as the cutting, the gluing and the coloring.
The Nativity, which remained on display in the school foyer through Epiphany, was initially placed in the hallway of the Lower Grade Building so the youngsters could have it to themselves for a couple of days as a worship aide.
“We turned off the lights so only the Nativity was showing, and we had “O, Holy Night” playing,” Miner said. “To hear the reaction of the children, being that it is almost eye-level to them, was very heartwarming, and they also could pick out what item they made. They were awestruck seeing it all come together,” she said.
Also particpating in the project were members of the St. Clement of Rome Beautification Enrichment Program, who labeled the display with their school’s 2011-12 theme: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).
Howat said his favorite part of the Nativity project was seeing the two age groups collaborate “to make something that represents the true meaning of the season.”
“I think, really, what (the seventh graders) shared with them was a tenderness – the concern of an older student for a younger student,” Howat said.
Art projects between the two groups typically have a Christian theme, noted Howat, so “it’s teaching their little buddies the faith, as well as helping them with their practical and motor skills.”
Seventh grader Teresa LaCour and her buddy, Abi Chaddock, were asked to create Mary’s donkey.
“It is made up of all these little pieces of fur,” Teresa said. “It was supposed to be one large piece, but Abi decided to cut it up. She made it become something even cuter. I’m proud of her!”
The duo’s biggest problem was getting the paper donkey to stand up, a problem they solved by making a cardboard base.
“It kept flipping,” Abi recalled, admitting that her favorite part of the Nativity lay just to the left of her carefully constructed donkey.
“I like Baby Jesus the best,” Abi said, “because he’s cute.”