Congratulations, 2019-2020 Reflections Outstanding Interpretation Winners!

On May 1, National PTA announced the 2019-2020 Reflections winners for the student-selected theme Look Within. Over 200 students across 40 State PTA Congresses were recognized for their achievements in Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. Seven students were named Outstanding Interpretation winners, which is the highest achievement in the Reflections program. We are very proud of these students and would like to share their work, artist statements and creative processes.

Makenna Miller – Dance Choreography

Makenna is from Missouri and choreographed a dance she calls “Look Within.” In her artist statement, she says, “In this piece, I want to tell a story of someone going through life in search of true happiness. They’ve been trying to be someone they’re not and always making other people happy, while never feeling like who they truly are and meant to be. Eventually, they realize that if they look within, they find their own beautiful qualities that make them unique… even glorious and magnificent. That is when true happiness is found and nothing else matters. I chose this song because I felt like my choreography could really bring the lyrics to life.”

When she was choreographing this piece, Makenna incorporated the moving lyrics of the song into her movements. She says, “There are so many beautiful and emotional lyrics in this song, so it was a lot of trial and error to get the flow and story I was looking for. Since I am a dancer, I have a lot of inspiration to take from, whether it’s my time in class, conventions, my teachers, or my own improv time. As I was creating this piece I always kept in mind that I wanted to project a feeling. A feeling that grows over time. A feeling of jealousy, doubt, confusion, but also hope.”

Harper Phillips – Special Artist – Dance Choreography

Harper is from Oklahoma and created a dance inspired by her experiences with dyslexia. Her piece, called “Dancing with Dyslexia,” shows how she deals with dyslexia and the joy dancing brings her. “Dance makes me happy. When school is hard, I can dance. Dance gives me hope. It is hope that is always there, even when dyslexia makes stuff hard.”

When Harper is choreographing, she says “I feel the emotions and let them out through my body. I want people to see how it feels instead of tell them.”

Gabriel Irving – Film Production

Gabriel is from North Carolina, and his film “Look Within” encourages people to find their own unique qualities to combat peer pressure. He says, “I was inspired to film this video because my grandmother told me to make a great success out of my life. I also filmed my video to show the shadow of peer pressure, and how we should see the good in ourselves and not be influenced by other people. When my grandmother passed away, I had to look within to find myself again.”

Jax Thompson – Literature

Jax from Kentucky wrote a poem called “Reflecting on RE-AL-I-TY,” is about his search for superheroes and finding one within himself

His artist statement says, “I’ve been thinking about what I can do to help our world. I may only be a kid, but I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make a difference. It takes a lot of courage to express what I’m feeling inside, but I know that until I give my inside thoughts a voice that I can’t make things happen or be the real me. It’s scary to think about stepping up to make a change, but I know I can do it! We all have a ‘Super H’ inside!”

“When I put my thoughts into words, art and music it makes me feel so good inside! My writing sets me free! I hope that when people read my words, they see that we can all find the strength to make a difference. We can’t wait for superheroes to fly in and save the day! We all need to step up to help the world, especially now! When I wrote my poem, the words poured out of me like water pouring out of a glass. My mom and dad have always inspired me to march to my own drum and express myself! I do that with my writing and I’m never going to stop!”

Illasell Tan – Music Composition – California

Illasell lives in California and wrote a song called “Look Within Yourself.” She says, “my composition consists of me singing with the accompaniment of the piano played by myself. The song shows how you should accept who and what you are and that nobody’s perfect. It relates to the theme by explaining how you should look within yourself to find that you are worth more than you believe you are. Whenever in doubt, reflect and realize that you matter.”

Leahalani Adolfo – Photography – Hawaii

Leah lives in Hawaii and used a unique process to capture her photograph, which she titled The Light Within. Her photograph is about finding light within ourselves. Leah says “Autophobia, the fear of oneself. We desire to be accepted so much that we hide ourselves. We’ve hidden ourselves so deep it’s a long and difficult quest to find the light within us that shines so bright. The light represents all the good and potential inside every human being. To create this photo, I first cut out a heart on a piece of cardboard. I then put it on my mirror and sprayed it with water. I turned off the light and turned on my flash to create this lighted effect.”

Kaycie Colton – Visual Art

Kaycie, who is from Virginia, used her battle with a painful disease as inspiration for her painting Burn to Born. “My life changed when I was hospitalized with Steven Johnsons Syndrome, the recurrent type. The first occurrence was the worst. In the burn unit, my entire body was wrapped in bandages. I was blistering and burning from the inside out. I needed a feeding tube because of oral damage and eye surgery to save my vision. I had to look deep inside myself for inner strength and find patience and perseverance. I would not allow the fire to devour me. My flesh was burned, but my new found strength underneath was unveiled. Much like the phoenix, I was reborn.”

I found out while still in the hospital for the second time with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome the 2019-2020 Reflections theme. I used a picture taken of me while I was at my worst and wanted change it so that it would reflect my inner strength. Instead of being unable to move, wrapped from head to toe, and in so much pain from my burning skin, I showed myself being transformed. I always loved images of phoenixes rising from the ashes and I wanted that to be me, rising, new and better.

We have been so inspired by all of our Reflections participants. Their masterpieces show their interpretation of the theme “Look Within,” and many students used their introspection to inspire others to do so. Congratulations to our seven Outstanding Interpretation winners, and we look forward to celebrating with everyone at the virtual PTA Convention & Expo and throughout the year. Visit PTA.org/ReflectionsAwards for a full winners’ list and highlights. Thank you so much for your continued support of the Reflections program. Don’t forget to participate in the 2020-2021 theme “I Matter Because…” Learn more about Reflections and register to show National PTA that you are participating here!

Thank you, 2019-2020 National PTA Reflections Reviewers

As we begin to celebrate the talented young winners of the 2019-2020 Reflections program who responded to the student-selected theme “Look Within,” we’d like to give a special round of applause to all of our national round reviewers! The national round judges review the top student submissions from every state. Our judges look at each student’s entry and artist statement in the six Reflections categories of Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts, as well as our Special Artist Division.

This year, our national round reviewers saw almost 1,000 submissions from 47 State PTAs and the European PTA! The reviewers carefully evaluate each work using both the artwork and the artist statement to make their decisions. We are so grateful to these volunteer reviewers for donating their time and artistic expertise to help us name the Outstanding Interpretation winners, Award of Excellence winners and Award of Merit winners. Thanks to the reviewers’ hard work, National PTA is able to recognize over 200 student artists and award over $21,000 in scholarship funds to our national-level winners.

The national round reviewers are all artists themselves, ranging from songwriters to professional photographers to choreographers to film makers! The organizations they work with include the Smithsonian Institution, NPR Music, Opera Lafayette, Arts Access NC, the Chrysler Museum and the International Consortium for Advancement in Choreography, Inc. All of the reviewers value the impact the arts had on their childhood and their current artistic process.

Several of the reviewers were new to the process, and loved being part of it! One of the Dance Choreographer reviewers said this about her experience, “I absolutely adored every minute of reviewing dance submissions for the Reflections awards…I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but as soon as I clicked “Play” on the first entry in my queue I actually found myself teary-eyed.”

When asked about her first memory of creating something was, a Photography reviewer revealed that her connection to art started with Reflections! “My first memory of making art is honestly a Reflections contest when I was 10 or 12. It was the first time I used a camera with the purpose of making art…I felt so cool and professional!”

We are so grateful to our reviewers for their support of Reflections and helping us to recognize students’ accomplishments in the arts, especially in a time when we’re all turning to the arts for communication, comfort and creativity. We could not do this without the volunteer leadership that these arts professionals provide.

Visit PTA.org/Reflections on Friday, May 1st for the announcement of the 2019-2020 Reflections “Look Within” winners and to learn more about the 2020-2021 theme “I Matter Because…”For more information on the awards our winners receive, visit PTA.org/ReflectionsAwards

My Parent, My Advocate, My Hero

The 2018-2019 National PTA Reflections theme is “Heroes Around Me”. As time goes on, with all the drama and strife in the news, there is an ever-increasing need for our children to have a hero in their life. Someone who they know and believe will be there to root for them, even when all odds are stacked against them. As an association, we advocate to make every child’s potential become a reality. Our members are children’s heroes—our parents, our teachers, our administrators and our community leaders.

Those that advocate for children are heroes. Advocates of our children and students are passionate and will fight with everything they have, till their last breath if they must. My hero, at least, did this for me. She advocated for me because of that belief in my potential, even when countless others did not. My hero is my mom, Rebecca Thomas, who is a former Advocacy Partner for the New York State PTA, past-president of the Monroe Woodbury SEPTA in Orange County, New York and the proud mother of a son with autism.

My mom’s advocacy efforts for families with students with special needs began over a decade ago when I was not receiving the adequate services that I needed as listed in my Individualized Education Plan (IEP). She directly advocated for improved services for me by calling and writing letters to members of the school board, the district superintendent and the state’s department of education.

Indirectly, after seeing how her advocacy benefited her child, my mom joined the local PTA because she wanted to help other parents learn how to become advocates for their own children. She served as an officer in the local PTA, as well as on the district’s council and the regional board. In 2008, she became an active member and leader with another organization, Parents United Learning the Special Education System (PULSES), to help parents navigate the special education system and advocate for services for their children.

I am now attending college online at Southern New Hampshire University and pursing a degree in Human Services because of the advocacy efforts of my mom. In addition, I am serving on the Illinois and National PTA Board of Directors where I continue her work to advocate for all children, especially those with special needs. I do this knowing the level of impact advocacy has had on my own life.

By advocating for my education, my mom has also become an advocate for every child to receive a high-quality education. She believes, as all PTA members believe, that with a high-quality education, all children can lead a meaningful life, regardless of what challenges they face. I feel that the work she accomplished through the PTA has helped give me the foundation and support critical to succeeding in not just school but in life. Now, who is your hero?