Grant Continues to Advance Art Through PTAs Nationwide

For over 50 years, the National PTA Reflections arts program has provided opportunities for recognition and access to the arts for millions of students, thanks to the innovation of artist, PTA leader and founder Mary Lou Anderson. Reflections boosts student confidence and success in the arts and in life.

Anderson’s vision was to increase arts access among at-risk and underserved students and we are proud to offer the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant to help continue that goal. Through this opportunity, local PTAs demonstrate a commitment to providing new pathways for students to participate in the Reflections program and increase student access to high quality arts learning experiences.

We honored the commitment of two local PTAs with $1,000 for their dedication to increase access to high quality arts learning and increase the impact of their Reflections Program. Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA in California and Robinson High School PTSA in Florida were the 2020-2021 Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant recipients! Check out what these amazing PTAs did with their grant funds!

2020-2021 MLA Grantee Profile: Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA, Temecula, Calif.

With only one entry for their PTA Reflections program, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA recognized the need to place more focus on getting students educated and excited about the arts. As a Title I school, with a culturally diverse student body, Pauba Valley Elementary PTA saw it their mission to match that diversity in how they present the arts, with a focus on positively impacting students from both at-risk and underserved families, to advance diversity in the arts, specifically in the Reflections program.

Despite the limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA wanted to bring the entire community together to support the arts. So, they planned and implemented a series of six virtual workshops that averaged over 200 participants per event. In the planning process, the PTA realized that many students were lacking supplies, so they purchased materials and assembled kits which were distributed via drive-through pickups. They also arranged for presenters through community partnerships, where applicable.

With grant funding, the PTA was able to cover costs that would have otherwise been unattainable. The events helped to inspire students to be creative through artistic expression and demonstrate and communicate the benefits of membership in PTA to the Pauba Valley Elementary School community. The last event focused on the arts as a career, providing inspiration and information about professions in the arts.

With an incredible total of 1,800 people impacted through the virtual events, the Pauba Valley Elementary PTA said the most memorable part was, “Seeing the excitement from the students. They were engaged and learning through our hands-on activities, and it was awesome to see the seeds being planted.”

Kathy Gonzales, vice president, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA said that the events were incredibly successful and shared, “Even though we are not together on campus, these virtual events are giving our families a chance to connect with each other and have fun while doing it. We are so excited to offer these programs to our school community during these challenging times.”

2020-2021 MLA Grantee Profile: Robinson High School PTSA, Tampa, Fla.

In May, with support from the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant, Robinson High School PTSA hosted a spoken word poetry program. The event included a two-day workshop that culminated in the Spoken Word Poetry Jam. To foster student engagement, the PTSA partnered with the school media specialist and world languages department. In addition, they incorporated a local artist and spoken word poet. Seven students participated in the voluntary presentation portion of the Poetry Jam.

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the program marked the school’s first in-person workshop that students could attend at school during the school year. The students, according to the PTSA, were extremely excited to attend the in-person event and many Robinson High School teachers allowed students to earn credit for attendance and participation.

The collaboration between the PTSA and teachers added value to the event. Inclusion was key to the event’s success. The PTSA sought to elevate student voices and give them some control over the program. Students also talked about gender and stereotypes through their artwork. All students were encouraging to one another and embraced each other’s different perspectives.

One student brought her mother and grandmother to the event. The PTSA shared, “The encouragement and love between the three generations of women was inspiring to witness.” The most memorable part of the program, according to the PTSA, was the Spoken Word Poetry Jam itself. The students were enthusiastic about participating and supported one another through the process. The students also demonstrated bravery and vulnerability as they worked through some of the stress this year has put upon them.

The Poetry Jam also served as a catalyst for students to learn about the upcoming school year’s Reflections program. The PTSA used a portion of the workshop to discuss the Reflections theme and brainstorm ideas for participation. The PTSA distributed student entry forms and captured the students’ information to jumpstart their program. Robinson High School PTSA plans to continue to work through the summer to ensure students are exposed to other Reflections arts categories. The PTSA identified this specific program because it provided students with an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. It also fostered an appreciation for writing and poetry to express and convey thoughts and emotions through art.

With half of the Robinson High School student population qualifying for free & reduced-price lunch under Title I, these grant dollars were extremely appreciated. When asked if they would consider running the program again, the PTSA shared, “Most definitely. Based on feedback alone, our students were excited and engaged and every single one wanted to do it again.”

Congratulations, once again, to Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA and Robinson High School PTSA!

If you are planning to host a 2021-2022 I Will Change the World By… Reflections program and are in need of funding to increase access and participation of at-risk and underserved students in arts programming, APPLY NOW!

Applications for the next round of Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement grants are now being accepted through Sept. 27 at PTA.org/Grants. Two local PTAs will be awarded $1,000 to administer student-centered programs that increase access to high quality arts learning experiences and new pathways for students to participate in National PTA’s Reflections program. 

We can’t wait to support and celebrate another successful year of Reflections with you!

Learn more about Reflections, Mary Lou Anderson and her legacy by visiting our ArtsEd page and Reflections Timeline.

Congratulations, 2020-2021 National PTA Reflections Outstanding Interpretation Winners!

On May 1, National PTA announced the 2020-2021 Reflections winners for the student-selected theme I Matter Because…. Over 200 students from 38 State PTA Congresses earned national recognition for their creative accomplishments in Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. The program also offers a Special Artist Division to recognize students with disabilities who participate. Seven remarkable students earned the National PTA Reflections program’s highest achievement: the Outstanding Interpretation Award. We are proud to recognize this year’s Outstanding Interpretation Award winners!

Mark Wagner – Special Artist – Dance Choreography
Dana Hills High School PTSA, California

Mark showed us the strength of his voice through his choreography piece titled “I Speak With My Dancing.” In his artist statement, Mark wrote, “I matter because I am different. I speak with my dancing.”

Mark has been dancing since he was five years old, and he practiced every week for two months to develop his Reflections submission. He is a fearless performer who loves to entertain big crowds with his creative movements. His mother, Mercedes, shared, “For him to achieve this award, in his Special Artist category, is truly an honor for him and our family.”

Sydney Ware – Dance Choreography
Dekalb School of the Arts PTSA, Georgia

Sydney’s creativity stood out with “In This Shirt,” her dance choreography piece. In her artist statement, Sydney explained, “The whole song is about being lost as an individual, so I used that as a way to represent that we all are lost sometimes. The video begins with the dancers describing why they matter.

The dance begins with them wearing shirts that say ‘Why Do I Matter?’. Throughout the dance they find themselves as individuals and have their own solo moments. They also change into their own individual
outfits, to express finding their individuality. ‘On the journey to finding yourself, there will always be reasons why you matter’.”

Sydney finds value in choreographing to express herself. She shared, “I really enjoyed working on this piece. At the time we had been in quarantine for six months, so I was really ready to put positive energy into something that I enjoyed doing.”

Zoe Caraballo – Film Production
Green Township PTA, New Jersey

Zoe’s film production “I Matter” exemplifies the student-selected Reflections theme. In her artist statement, she explained, “To matter, you have to choose to matter. Through my video, I explain how I can make a difference in the world through small acts and how you could matter too if you choose to.”

For Zoe, art is “an opportunity to spread my message about serious topics in the world in an eye-catching way.” In this film, which includes an immersive Minecraft-inspired scene, she combined her passions for poetry and film production.

Joshua Johnson – Literature
Bennion Junior High PTSA, Utah

Joshua wrote a powerful poem titled “The Voice In My Head.” In his artist statement, he explained the piece’s context: “2020 has been unbelievably challenging for many people, including me. With the physical, emotional, mental, financial, academic, political, and social challenges we’ve all faced this year, I wanted to write a poem that expressed the feelings and experiences I have had and I have heard. I believe I matter because I can do hard things. I am becoming a better person, a better student, a better
family member, and a better member of our society because of the things I am learning by being resilient.

Because I know I matter, I believe I help other people know they matter.”
Though Joshua typically sources inspiration for his poems based on what is in his head and heart, this poem comes straight from his heart. He shared that the poem “was really personal to me. It was my attempt to articulate everything I had been feeling about [last] year.”

Johan Novak – Music Composition
Odle Middle School PTSA, Washington

Johan’s moving musical composition piece, titled “Legacy,” expresses the power of individual influence. In his artist statement, he shared, “Last summer, our dear family friend with cancer spent her final days in
hospice care in our home. She was a phenomenal musician, my music teacher, and most of all my friend.

She left me her legacy of music and love, and inspired me to write this song. In her death, I saw how precious life is. We take so many things for granted and forget that tomorrow is not guaranteed. I matter because I create a legacy with each day I have. I can make the world a better place and honor those who gave me so much.”

Like so many, Johan has found joy through art. He shared, “Writing my Reflections song helped me express my feelings, and I hope that my music has personal meaning to you. I write music to express my feelings and because it makes me happy.”

Maeryn Elizabeth Jacob – Photography
Lawton Chiles Middle School PTSA, Florida
Maeryn’s photograph demonstrates her power to change the world. In her artist statement, Maeryn explained, “I matter because I fight for my beliefs. Though I am young I believe I can still have a big impact on the world. This world is suffering, and we need to do everything we can to help undo the things we have done. As a part of the upcoming generation, who will need to fix our world so that the next generations after us, still have a place to live.”

Photography allows Maeryn to share her perspective on the world with others. With her Young Artist Scholarship, Maeryn plans to save most of the winning money – but she also wants to get a hamster with some of it!

Claire Moon – Visual Arts
Rachel Carson Middle School PTA, Virginia

Claire’s intricate visual arts piece is titled “My Pieces of Quilt.” She explained her inspiration in her artist statement, writing, “I thought of pieces someone needs during their journey to potential success, so I thought of paper, which represents the pieces in a story. In this artwork, I incorporated states of paper, including signs of where we face failure, so we give up, crumple, and tear up what we initially had in mind,
but also the remarkable achievements that we pin and clip to stay flexible and fold it into an impacting lesson. Therefore, I matter because by taping the achievements and failures, I can string together the hardships I face to grow my identity into a developing masterpiece.”

Now in middle school, Claire has participated in the Reflections program since she was a third grader. She shared, “I enjoy [Reflections] because it helps me reflect on what’s happening around me and to
figure out what I’ve learned.”

Congratulations to our Outstanding Interpretation winners: Mark Wagner, Sydney Ware, Zoe Caraballo, Joshua Johnson, Johan Novak, Maeryn Elizabeth Jacob, and Claire Moon! We look forward to celebrating your achievements at the virtual PTA Convention & Expo and throughout the year.

We are also so inspired by all the “I Matter Because…” awardees. Please visit PTA.org/ReflectionsAwards to find the official Reflections awards announcement , the complete list of student winners, and our
Virtual Exhibit of student works. Stay connected to National PTA on social media (@NationalPTA and PTAReflections) as we continue to recognize and celebrate student talents throughout the year.


Sarah Scalet, National PTA’s Arts in Education Fellow

National PTA Celebrates Look Within Reflections Artists

For over fifty years, the National PTA Reflections program has provided opportunities for recognition and access to the arts, which boost student confidence and success in the arts and in life. The arts program honors student creativity through six Reflections categories: Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography, and Visual Arts. 

In response to an annual theme, thousands of students across the country and in U.S. schools abroad submit artwork and can be recognized with awards and prizes at the local, county, district, region and then state PTA levels. Just over 200 students are recognized at a national level for their artistic achievements in the arts each year.   

At the national level, students can earn an Award of Merit, Award of Excellence, or Outstanding Interpretation Award. Each year, National PTA typically honors the national winners and their artwork with in-person events—including the Student Arts Showcase at the U.S. Department of Education. This year, due to COVID-19, National PTA hosted its first-ever Virtual Reflections Student Arts Showcase.  

Held January 26, the digital event brought Reflections supporters together to celebrate the national winners from the 2019-2020 Look Within program. The Showcase featured one national winner from each Reflections category and our Special Artist Division.

Representing the Dance Choreography category, Jacob Valadez kicked off the featured student artist performances. Jacob’s dance, “Look Within Yourself Be Unstoppable,” expresses the value of personal strength. Although life can be hard, Jacob demonstrates that everyone can be unstoppable by looking within and never giving up. We are grateful he shared this powerful sentiment with us. 

After Jacob, we enjoyed Matthew Bang’s visual arts piece, “I Realize and Recognize.” As the featured Special Artist, Matthew’s painting depicts his family’s Korean heritage and his own identity as a Korean American. Matthew shared, “Art is a form of expression. It allows me to convey emotions that are too difficult to express in words alone.” His detailed visual arts piece beautifully communicates a vast depth of meaning! 

Jiya Bhavsar wowed us with “Struggling Within Me.” Through her piano performance, Jiya represented the music composition category and showcased the power of perseverance. She explained, “I look within when I feel like ‘I give up’ and then I say, ‘Try again.’” We are all inspired by Jiya’s tenacity. 

As the featured artist for the photography category, Barbara Exilus’s photograph “Look Within” depicts the pressure that many young people feel when trying to achieve unrealistic beauty standards and social norms. Barbara shared, “I want my artwork to speak and touch people in any way it can.” Barbara truly conveyed a compelling message through her photograph. 

Melissa Qiu, the featured artist for the literature category, impressed with her poem, “Breaking the Silence and Filling the Minds.” Her writing details the beauty of the zither, which, Melissa shares is a “a very magical and traditional musical instrument because it has allowed me to look within myself and my Chinese culture.” We appreciate Melissa’s creative use of language to bridge musicmaking and her ancestral heritage.  

As the representative of the Visual Arts category, Katie Ross Nelson shared her wearable sculpture. Meticulously constructed, “The Swan” dress showcases fashion as a means of self-expression. Katie found inspiration from actor Billy Porter, who, by wearing a dress to the 2019 Oscars, “flipped the stereotype and made the dress a symbol of inner strength.” Thank you, Katie, for sharing your compelling work of art with us. 

The last featured artist, Dayton Kress, closed out the show with his film production. Titled “Within Us All,” Dayton demonstrates the power of compassion. He shared, “It is important to understand that we can all lift each other up in times of need. We all go through things, and sometimes we just need a little support along the way.” Dayton’s film shares a timeless message—be kind to one another!  

As our hosts for the evening, Leslie Boggs, National PTA President, and Nathan R. Monell, CAE, Executive Director of National PTA, expressed the value of the arts in a student’s education—especially in the era of COVID-19. Bonnie Carter, the Group Leader of Arts in Education Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, shared a congratulatory message to all Reflections participants. The Department of Education is a valuable supporter of the Reflections program, and we thank Bonnie for joining us virtually!

Our celebration of the arts continues with a virtual exhibit featuring the 200+ national Reflections winners from the 2019-2020 program. Take a moment to view the remarkable creative achievements of our program participants, ranging from detailed paintings in the visual arts category to graceful dance choreography movements. The artwork may encourage you to Look Within!  

Visit PTA.org/Reflections to learn more about Reflections and share your artwork with @NationalPTA using #PTAReflections. Missed the Showcase? Find the full program on National PTA’s YouTube channel


Sarah Scalet is the National PTA arts in education fellow. 

Collection: 2019-2020 Look Within National PTA Reflections Award Recipients (flickr.com)

We Have a Winner! The Reflections Program’s Annual Theme Search is Complete

Did you know that students develop the Reflections program’s annual overarching theme? Each year, students from across the country and in U.S. schools abroad submit theme suggestions for a future Reflections program cycle. The Reflections Theme Search Contest’s winning theme goes on to inspire thousands of student artists. 

We are excited to announce that Jason Yevin, a 10th grader from Salk/Macarthur PTSA in New York, is the 2022-2023 Reflections Theme Search Contest winner! The 2022-2023 Reflections program theme will be … [drumroll please] … ‘Show Your Voice!’. Congratulations to Jason! 

To determine the 2022-2023 Reflections program’s theme, students submitted their most inventive ideas to their State PTAs. State PTAs then submitted up to five finalist themes to National PTA. In total, over 80 students from 20 states participated in the 2022-2023 Reflections Theme Search Contest. National PTA volunteer leaders led the judging process, and they faced the challenging task of selecting a winning theme that was unique and inspiring, and that promoted PTA values.  

‘Show Your Voice!’ rose to the top because of its relevance today and continued importance into the future. Jason explained the inspiration for his theme submission as follows:  

“Show Your Voice is a reference to what the year 2020 has become. At the time of writing the phrase, the Black Lives Matter protest was huge, and so was wearing masks during COVID-19. The phrase represents talking over the masks and it represents that the protesters showed their voice in what they believe was right and fair. 

Volunteer leaders from New York State PTA, Nassau Region PTA and Salt/Macarthur PTSA came together (in a socially distant manner), to surprise Jason with the news that he had won the National Reflections Theme Search Contest!  

In honor of Jason’s great accomplishment, he will receive national recognition and $100 from National PTA. During the 2022-2023 Reflections program, we look forward to seeing Reflections participants’ creative work inspired by ‘Show Your Voice!’ With his winning submission, Jason joins the ranks of just 54 students who have shaped the future of the Reflections program by determining the theme that guides an entire program cycle.  

Currently, the theme, ‘I Matter Because…’, is inspiring Reflections participants. In the fall of 2018, Rylee Stier, a first-grader from Burney Elementary School, submitted the theme for the 2020-2021 Reflections program after drawing inspiration from the devastating California wildfires affecting her community. With the call for meaningful steps to dismantle structural racism, ‘I Matter Because…’ has taken on new meaning and an even greater opportunity to engage and elevate the voices of students of color.  

In fact, National PTA has launched a new initiative to invite Reflections artists of color and their allies to share artwork that expresses and affirms their beliefs and identities. Select works will be used to help us celebrate diversity in the arts. Please share this opportunity with young artists in your state and upload artwork to this Google Form by March 1, 2021. National PTA will announce our national winners on May 1, 2021 and celebrate artwork inspired by ‘I Matter Because…’ through July 2021. 

We encourage all Reflections supporters to help shape the future of the Reflections program by participating in the annual Theme Search Contest. Visit your state PTA’s Reflections Program page to learn more about the Reflections program and the complete list of past themes. 

And don’t forget to share your artwork with @NationalPTA using #PTAReflections! 


Sarah Scalet is the National PTA arts in education fellow.