RIPLEY, W.Va. _ Career and technical students from the Northern Panhandle to southern West Virginia are seeing their efforts up in lights at the Fourth Annual Winterfest at Cedar Lakes in Jackson County.
The students design and build computer-operated holiday displays, which can be viewed 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily through Jan. 1. There is no entrance fee but donations are accepted.
This year, Wheeling Park High School Career and Technical Education Center students captured first place among large schools with Santa’s Journey. Roane-Jackson Technical Center students won first place in their division with Christmas Carousel. In the small schools division, Mingo County Career and Technical Education students won first place for their Steam Engine and Coal Tinder entry. Winning schools receive $1,000, which can be used for educational purposes.
“This activity is a wonderful example of project-based learning,” said Assistant State Superintendent Stan Hopkins, who heads the Division of Technical and Adult Education Services at the West Virginia Department of Education. “The students put a great deal of work into their projects. From design to construction, the students are engaged in problem solving and working as a team. It is 21st century skills at work.”
Visitors to Cedar Lakes are greeted by colorful lights lining the road that guide them toward the holiday displays in a natural lake setting. Thousands of lights outlining the elements of each display are reflected in the water’s surface. Visitors also will see scenes of twinkling carousels, Ferris wheels, animated motorcycles, gingerbread houses, running deer, Santa’s sleigh, trains and other holiday displays.
Winterfest got its start in 2004 to generate interest in Cedar Lakes during the holiday season, to serve as an economic development opportunity for the region and to foster an increased sense of community. The event began with the donation of several light displays by the family of Guy Hersman after his death. Hersman’s light collection was valued at $45,000. The Jack Sweeny family of Martinsburg also donated its large light collection, valued at $60,000.
Since then, the displays, grants and cash donations have exceeded about $325,000. Last year, about 27,000 people visited the event, which begins the last week of November. The student competition was added in 2006.
To be eligible, students must be enrolled in an approved career and technical education course. They must submit to the West Virginia Department of Education a drawing of the planned display, a list of construction materials, a budget, a description of how the project will be built, who will be involved and electrical requirements. They also must provide a transportation plan. The West Virginia Department of Education provides grants to cover the costs of building materials based on the student plans.
“The interest is tremendous,” Hopkins said. “We’ve already received numerous calls from schools wanting information for next year. It truly is a wonderful project that forces students to think and use 21st century skills.”
In 2005, West Virginia became the second state in the nation to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which marries business interests with classroom instruction. Since joining the partnership, West Virginia has worked to add rigor to its educational system and incorporate 21st century skills, including learning and thinking skills; information and communications skills; technology skills; and work place productivity skills into the curriculum.
Several other activities also are available at Cedar Lakes in addition to the free light display, including pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus and horse-drawn sleigh rides nightly through Dec. 23. Call (304) 372-7860 or visit www.cedarlakes.com for more information.