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.