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Condon’s little K-8 school made what might be the biggest Christmas card in Montana.

On Wednesday, about 30 students from Swan Valley Elementary arrived at a private field tucked against the Swan River and the edge of Flathead National Forest. On a folding table next to hot water for cocoa, lay the blueprint for their afternoon project — a message 640 feet long and 456 feet high, created by the kids who stomped designs into the snow and dyed them. A drone photographed the art and it will appear on the school’s holiday cards.

“It brings the school together and we get to have a big part of it,” Seth Richardson, the school’s only eighth-grader, said as he walked backward along an arc, using a weed sprayer to paint the snow pink with biodegradable water tracer dye most often used for finding leaks in pipes and tanks.

For the next arc, Richardson cranked the sprayer’s pump while two kindergarten students took turns swinging the nozzle side to side to tint the snow.

“It’s a really cool idea,” he said. “It’s fun for everybody.”

Colleen Herrington, a junior high teacher, explained that the project was not just for fun, but also a hands-on learning opportunity across all grades.

“They had to use stuff they’ve been learning in math and geometry,” she said. “They’re learning a lot about how to work as a community and how to be role models and be helpful.”

Each blue letter in “Happy Holidays” was 43 feet tall. Four pink concentric rings adorned each corner. The green dye appeared too yellow when sprayed, so they didn’t use it. The card was divided into quadrants with an older student leading a team of younger ones.

Every line was carefully plotted out with students drawing the design on an aerial photo of the field, doing the math to extrapolate scale, using compasses to identify reference points, and stretching measuring tapes to identify where teammates should create outlines in the snow. Older students learned about latitude and longitude, magnetic declination and other mapping terms.

“It’s really fun to get out here and be outside,” said fifth-grader Aubrey Matthew.

“Instead of being inside and sitting at your desk,” added Lillian Boyd, a fourth-grader. “Especially not just be with your class but the rest of the school.”

The idea started with Trustee Jimmy Boyd.

“The scale is what makes the project fun and what gives it the cool factor,” he said.

When the students' work was done, they loaded onto the back of a trailer stacked with hay and rode out to a spot on the field beneath their giant holiday card. Boyd’s wife, Stacey, flew a drone above them, taking a photo of the card and of the kids, who looked upward and yelled with excitement as they waved.


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