Every Child in Focus: Month of the Suburban Child

“Friendship”  by Jadyn Sano

“Friendship” by Jadyn Sano

A host of assumptions can be made about the U.S. suburbs and the populations who reside there.  However, our preconceived notions from TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver” no longer hold true.  Gone are the days of quaint neighborhoods filled with bright green lawns and white nuclear families.  They have given way to a far more diverse and dynamic way of life, enriching the lives of those who live there.  The face of the suburbs is changing, and these changes are creating new learning experiences for our children.

"Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning

“Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning


Once a safe haven from the “dangers of city living,” the gap between urban and suburban communities grows smaller every day.  Suburban populations are rising quickly, as are poverty levels.  According to a Brookings Institution study, “Between 2000 and 2008, the suburban poor population grew almost five times as fast as the city poor population, so that suburbs are now home to almost 1.9 million more poor people than their primary cities.”  By 2009, city and suburban unemployment rates had increased by nearly the same percentages; 9.6% and 8.7% respectively.  This means more free and reduced-price lunches for students, less accessibility to quality and up to date educational materials, and less flexibility for parents and caregivers to spend time at home and provide academic support to their children.

"Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning

“Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning

However, changes in the suburbs have brought wonderful opportunities to the children who live there.  Minority populations have drastically increased, creating more diverse communities and learning environments. According to 2010 census data, 59% of Latinos opt for suburbia living, as well as 62% of Asians.  In total, minorities make up 35% of suburban populations nationwide.  This provides students an opportunity to learn from a more global perspective, understanding their role as a citizen of the world.  The family structure has changed as well, with more and more children being raised in less conventional homes.  Today’s suburbanite children see the potential for love and caring rather than the potential for normalcy.

Here at National PTA, we see this shift of perspective in the incredible artwork students submit to the Reflections® program. Their artwork demonstrates an understood connectedness and shared humanity woven through every race, ethnicity, religion, and lifestyle.  Through new trials and tribulations in their communities, our suburban student artists arise triumphant, joining hands and powering forward together with strength they could never muster alone.

The Arts Are For All!

PTA believes that all children deserve opportunities to explore and participate in the arts and to be recognized for their achievements. While children with special needs have always been welcomed to the National PTA Reflections® program, National PTA recognizes that some children may be better served in a division that can better support their unique challenges. The Special Artist Division provides this choice.

Bradley Mauger, "On the Raindy River"

Bradley Mauger, “On the Rainy River”

This past year, the Special Artist Division emerged as an optional division for students whose physical, cognitive, or mental health challenges meet guidelines put forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This division was created as an alternative mode of entry for participants with special needs.  Students with disabilities have the option to enter and participate in the National PTA Reflections program within the Special Artist Division or whichever Grade Division is most closely aligned with their functional abilities.

Please check with your State PTA regarding availability in your state of residence and click here to learn more about division guidelines.


Sarah Khan, “Sarah’s Friendship”

In the summer of 2013, National PTA piloted a program called the Special Artist Workshops that gave students with special needs and disabilities the opportunity to participate in intensive, high quality arts learning experiences. Workshops led by a teaching team of Special Education teachers, teaching artists, and PTA leaders provided students and their families the opportunity to learn in a supportive artistic and educational environment. This pilot is just one example of how Reflections continues to provide us with the opportunity to engage families and build strong family-school-community partnerships.

Visit the National PTA Reflections Gallery for a complete list of Reflections award recipients including submissions from our Special Artist Division.

Students with special needs and disabilities experience greater challenges in everyday life than their peers. Oftentimes, they are unaware of how to express their thoughts, feelings, and dreams, and through art, they are able to blossom and find success.  PTA Reflections Special Artist Division provides these students the opportunity to blossom with the added benefit of engaging their parents and communities in their success.

For more information on how students with disabilities learn through the arts visit our national partner, Kennedy Center/VSA.

PTA Reflections and American Indian Inspiration


Student art by Jaden Downing

American Indian students account for a more sizeable portion of the U.S. public school system than you might think.  According to the National Indian Education Association, American Indian students totaled 378,000 in 2010-2011.  However, this number only accounts for students who are 100% American Indian; leaving out thousands upon thousands of other students who can trace their heritage back to one or more recognized tribes. These students are in every state across the U.S., with higher concentrations in California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas and New York.  In 2000-2010, the American Indian population rose by 27%, compared to the overall U.S. rise in population of 10%.

The American Indian culture has always been, but is being recognized more and more in our schools every day.  With growing populations and prevalence in the public school systems, the ways we think, teach, and learn about the American Indian culture is still evolving.  There are over 500 different American Indian tribes in the U.S. today. The beliefs and practices vary from tribe to tribe.  What remains consistent is the rich cultural heritage of our nation’s American Indian students.


Student art by Michelle Hartvigsen

Many tribes use a variety of artistic mediums to teach lessons and pass their heritage down through the generations.  American Indians come from an oral tradition, so storytelling is a universal method of teaching and keeping culture alive.  Almost every tribe holds the arts close to the core of their existence, with mediums such as song, dance, basket-weaving, or decorative arts playing an integral part in their identity.  By passing down these art forms, American Indians tell future generations the story of where they come from and who they are.  This is what PTA Reflections is all about; providing children an opportunity to tell a story through a painting or piece of music.  The arts can communicate the history of a people, the magic of a moment, or dreams of the future.  Humans have used the arts to communicate with and connect to one another for centuries.  National PTA Reflections opens doors for students of all cultural backgrounds to tell the world who they are and who they want to be; to communicate with and connect to the world around them.

PTA Reflections Recognizes Urban Student Artist

Students living in urban environments grow up with a host of unique educational experiences.  These populous and diverse environments are a wonderful foundation for individuality, creativity and expression.  This is why we see the arts flourishing among students in these urban communities.  Unique mediums such as graffiti, murals, street art, and others thrive in this populous and diverse environment.  More traditional mediums such as painting and photography capture grand images of landmark buildings and large community events.  In cities we see the blending of cultures, traditions, and experiences that inspires students to generate unique artwork reflective of what they know simply as “home.”


Student artwork by Natalie Labrique

This past year’s PTA Reflections® theme The Magic of a Moment was a perfect vehicle of expression for the urban child.  Through this theme, PTAs nationwide encouraged their students to stop and look for the magic in the world around them, whatever environment they were living in.  Winners from urban communities submitted artwork depicting city skylines, beautiful architecture, twinkling lights, and crowds of people.  Their artwork held up a mirror to their cities, reflecting the beauty of individuality and community simultaneously.  These moments, for the urban child, are just as magical as a sunrise or a snowfall.  These are the moments that make up the magic in their lives.

Here at National PTA, we had a chance to catch up with Isabella Olson, a 5th grade Reflections finalist who lives in a major U.S. city.

What city/urban environment inspired your artwork?
St. Paul, Minnesota

The Reflections theme for the year that you won an Award of Merit was “The Magic of the Moment.”  What do you think is magical about an urban environment?
The Cathedral was lit up for the Red Bull competition and it was spectacular.


Student artwork by Hannah Fowland

What challenges did you face artistically working in an urban environment?
There was one sign blocking the way. I worked with my mom to delete it in Photoshop.

What opportunities did working in an urban environment present?
I was with my family attending the Winter Festival in St. Paul. That was great to take photos.

How has the Reflections program encouraged you to explore your artistic skills?
My mom lets me use her Canon Rebel camera to take photos.

What advice do you have for other students who participate in the Reflections program?
If you see something interesting, take a photo and good luck!


Learn more about urban arts education by visiting our National PTA Partner in the Arts resources on Transforming Urban School Systems Through the Arts by Arts Education Partnership. Learn more about National PTA’s Reflections Program at www.PTA.org/Reflections

Tessa Raden is the National PTA Arts in Education Fellow.