Art in Action: The National PTA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Exhibit

National PTA has been seeking and actively listening to input from students and communities across the United States on how to best act in support of social justice and racial equity. In particular, the 2020-2021 Reflections program theme I Matter Because… took on new meaning in the wake of a national reckoning around systemic racism in our country.  

As part of this important work and because we know that the arts are a vital platform for children and youth to elevate their voices, National PTA launched a new initiative. We invited PTA Reflections artists of color and their allies to share artwork that expresses and affirms their beliefs and identities, as well as the importance of Black lives.  

Our open call for artwork was answered with nearly 150 student submissions from 19 different states. The entries included deeply personal and heartfelt pieces—ranging from collages and photographs to poems and dance choreography, and more. The thoughtful artworks allowed National PTA to connect and uplift the feelings of so many of our Black and Brown children. 

We invite you to explore a selection of these pieces in an interactive, immersive virtual gallery: The National PTA DEI Exhibit. Visitors can navigate through the 3D space to engage directly with students’ art. If a particular piece moves you, you can click on it to learn more about it and tap the “heart” button to express your enthusiasm and appreciation.  

Curious about the kind of art you’ll encounter? Take this piece in the exhibition as an example—a self-portrait titled, “I Am Just Like Me.” Created by Carissa Montier, the artist shared her inspiration for the painting.  

“As a young black girl in today’s world, it is hard to feel worthy and beautiful; hard to understand that I am good enough. I don’t need to fit the standard of society to be amazing, I need to be myself and embrace my blackness. I AM good enough because I Am Just Like Me.”  

Each piece in the exhibition is as thoughtful as the next. Collectively, the virtual gallery urges viewers to consider students’ diverse experiences and what it means for them to ‘matter’ today.   

In the first 48 hours of The National PTA DEI Exhibit’s launch, it received over 1,000 views from around the world. Reflecting on her personal experience in the gallery, National PTA President Anna King shared, “I love seeing how our children have expressed themselves. One poem brought tears to my eyes, because it’s a true reflection of what many of our children face every day.” 

We invite you to find inspiration in these students’ unique perspectives by immersing yourself in The National PTA DEI Exhibit at PTA.org/DEIexhibit and on our arts education and advocacy webpage at PTA.org/ArtsEd. The virtual experience is available through summer 2022.  

This initiative could not have been possible without the collective support of dedicated PTA volunteers across the country, PTA Reflections sponsor BAND, and of course, our talented student artists who were willing to express their feelings and experiences. 

Stay connected to National PTA on our website and social media (@NationalPTA and #PTAReflections)  and continue to visit our Arts Ed Resources for more ways to celebrate diversity in the arts.

Meet the 2023-2024 Reflections Theme Search Contest Winner!

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students across the country and in U.S. schools abroad participate in the Reflections program, creating artwork in response to an annual theme. Through Reflections, PTA provides students with an opportunity to grow their confidence and a platform to raise their voice on social issues. As part of that effort, we are proud to say that since the program’s launch over 50 years ago, the annual Reflections theme has always been developed by a student through the National PTA Annual Theme Search Contest.  

During the Theme Search Contest, students from across the country submit unique theme suggestions to their state PTAs, who then select up to five finalist themes and send them to National PTA. Once the submissions reach National PTA, volunteer leaders conduct multiple stages of review. These reviewers narrow the wide field of creative entries to just one by searching for a theme that is original, inspiring, focused and widely applicable. It is not an easy task!  

In fall 2021, we began a nationwide search for the theme for the 2023-2024 program year. Over the course of the Theme Search Contest, National PTA received over 75 entries from 18 different state PTAs. From these state-winning, student-selected theme submissions, we are excited to announce that the winner is …  

Alice Meko with her submission, I Am Hopeful Because…!  

With her winning submission, Alice joins the ranks of select students who have shaped the Reflections program over the years by determining the theme that guides an entire program cycle. Alice is a fourth-grader from Hampton Cove Elementary School PTA in Alabama. Her winning theme suggestion has earned her $100 and will inspire thousands of students across the nation during the 2023-2024 Reflections program. 

Alabama PTA surprised Alice with the news during an awards ceremony at her school. The event included Paula Lyman, Alabama PTA VP Programs and ALPTA Reflections Co-chair; Liz Boykin, Alabama PTA, Reflections Co-chair; Beth Wilder, Huntsville City Schools Board of Education, District 2; Christie Finley, Superintendent, Huntsville City Schools; Elizabeth Fleming, Director of Public Development, Huntsville City Schools; Dr. Lakeeta Perkins, Hampton Cove Elementary, Principal; and Sonia Parker, Hampton Cove Elementary, GATE teacher. Everyone was so excited to come together and recognize Alice’s accomplishment!  

During the program, Alice took a moment to share her inspiration for her winning theme. She explained, “Through these rough times, everybody needs a little hope around here.” 

Reviewers for the 2023-2024 Theme Search Contest also noted that I Am Hopeful Because… is relatable to many. One reviewer shared that hope is “something needed more than ever.” And while it is highly applicable now, hope springs eternal; the theme will likely remain inspiring to students for years to come. 

Currently, Reflections participants are creating artwork in response to the 2021-2022 program year’s theme, I Will Change the World By…, which was submitted by Lydia Keel from Spanish Fork Junior High School PTSA in Utah during the 2021-2022 Theme Search Contest. We are so excited to share how student artists across the country and in U.S. schools abroad have chosen to express how they will change the world. The 200+ national student winners from this year will be announced May 1, so mark your calendars! 

The 2022-2023 Reflections program theme—Show Your Voice!—will launch in April. We thank Jason Yevin, from Salk/Macarthur PTSA in New York for submitting that theme idea during the 2022-2023 Theme Search Contest. You can learn more about the events that inspired his idea in this blog post. Stay tuned for the launch at PTA.org/Reflections and then look for more information from your participating state PTA. 

We encourage all Reflections supporters to help shape the future of the Reflections program by participating in the annual Theme Search Contest. One theme submission could inspire the nation! Visit your state PTA’s Reflections Program page to learn more.  


Sarah Scalet is the 2020-2022 National PTA Arts in Education Fellow. 

National PTA Continues Celebration of “I Matter Because…” Reflections Artists

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students across the country and in U.S. schools abroad participate in the National PTA Reflections program. By creating opportunities for recognition and access to the arts, Reflections boosts student confidence and success, both in the arts and in life.   

In response to an annual student-selected theme, students can submit artwork in the categories of Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. The program also offers the Special Artist Division, which recognizes students with disabilities who participate.  

As a tiered arts recognition program, student submissions can earn awards and prizes at the local, county, district, region levels. Winners from these levels then move on to the state PTA level. Finally, winning artworks from the state level proceed to the national level, where students can receive the Award of Merit, Award of Excellence, or the highest honor—the Outstanding Interpretation Award—for their artistic achievements.  

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, National PTA will host a Virtual Reflections Student Arts Showcase to continue to celebrate the over 200 national-level awardees from the 2020-2021 I Matter Because… program. As students and their creative talents are essential to the Reflections program, the event will feature more artwork and more students than ever before, with 22 student highlights! We are so excited to recognize all of our winners again and share the creative accomplishments of our featured artists with you.  

Top left – Anna Xie, Award of Merit in Visual Arts, Georgia
Top middle – Alea Garner, Award of Merit in Dance Choreography as a Special Artist, Utah
Top right – MaeLee Scoville, Award of Merit in Literature, Utah
Bottom left – Minjae Eum, Award of Excellence in Music Composition, Alabama
Bottom middle – Josh Devaney, Award of Excellence in Film Production, New Jersey
Bottom right – Trisha Shrestha, Award of Excellence in Dance Choreography, Washington

For a sense of the fun to come, we would like to introduce you to a selection of the featured students.  

Campbell Brown is a dancer from Russom Elementary PTA in Georgia. She won the Award of Merit for her Dance Choreography piece, “Shine Bright.” Dancing brings Campbell joy, and she likes to spread that positivity with others. In her own words, she explains, “I know that I matter because when I bring joy and happiness to others through my performance it makes the world a better place.”  

Tanishka Gupta won the Award of Merit for her poem, “I Matter to Me.” From Round Rock Senior High PTA in Texas, Tanishka shared that writing helps her express her ideas about sensitive subjects and “paint a picture with words.” The inspiration for her award-winning poem draws from the key points of individuality, self-worth, and uniqueness. Tanishka notes, “my true worth always has and always will lie inside me.”  

This year’s Reflections Student Arts Showcase will also highlight Boston Flake from Hobble Creek Elementary PTA in Utah, who won the Award of Merit for his music composition piece, “Bit Life.” (He also won an Award of Excellence during the I Matter Because… program for his literature piece, “I Can Do Anything!”) Boston, a blind DJ and music composer, has produced music for many years and performs in front of big crowds. He shared, “That is one way to show that I matter, by lifting others with my talents.” 

Want to hear from more talented student artists? Join the Reflections community and celebrate students’ creativity during the 2022 Virtual Reflections Student Arts Showcase at 7:00 PM EST, Tuesday, Jan. 25! The event will air on National PTA’s YouTube channelRSVP in advance to receive free Reflections-inspired activities, including an interactive game to play along with us during the event.  

If you can’t wait until Jan. 25 to view artwork from inspiring student artists, visit this virtual collection, which features the 200+ national Reflections winners from the 2020-2021 I Matter Because… Reflections program. Take a moment to view these students’ remarkable creative achievements and feel free to leave a comment or two!  

We also invite you to learn more about the top seven I Matter Because… Outstanding Interpretation awardees by reading a recent blog post and watching the award video. Congratulations once again to the recipients of the Outstanding Interpretation award: Claire Moon, Johan Novak, Joshua Johnson, Maeryn Elizabeth Jacob, Mark Wagner, Sydney Ware and Zoe Caraballo. 

For more information about the Reflections program, please visit PTA.org/Reflections.  


Sarah Scalet is the National PTA Arts in Education Fellow. 

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. 

Celebrating Arts & Humanities through the School of Excellence

National PTA and the School of Excellence program recognize that schools and PTAs can take an active role in supporting of arts education. Throughout the country, arts education programming is being slashed, leaving all students, artists or not, without a creative outlet to explore their own experiences and identities.

Understanding this, some of our School of Excellence participants take up the mantle of supporting the arts in their school communities no matter how difficult. In honor of their hard work and Arts & Humanities month, let us explore how some of the 2019-2021 School of Excellence designees used the arts to enhance their family-school partnerships.

Centerville Elementary PTA, Utah           

Centerville Elementary PTA’s School of Excellence team, in collaboration with a group of parent advocates, chose to focus on increasing student access to the arts. Centerville Elementary PTA’s work demonstrates not only a dedication to the arts, but a dedication to their community. Their work in supporting the arts was in direct response to several parents who advocated for students to have an art program at Centerville Elementary.

The Excellence Team set to work early in the year, meeting to share ideas, set priorities, and discuss available resources. Their first task was to create a choir program. The Excellence team sent out an interest survey and received a huge response in favor of the choir program.  Close to 100 students joined the choir program (approximately ¼ of the student population) and had a phenomenal experience. The program truly brought to life the idea of family-engagement, with several parents volunteering with the program including the choir teacher, a parent who is also a highly qualified choral instructor. The choir put on a very well attended concert at the end of the school year that brought many parents and families that typically did not attend school events.

 

In truth, family engagement was incorporated into all the work Centerville Elementary PTA did. The PTA relied on their parent volunteers to weave arts education throughout the school. For example, one volunteer recognized the waste of a classroom set of ukuleles that had been left sitting in a storage room at the school. The parent coordinated Monday morning ukulele classes. The classes held an array of participants from the principal to the custodian to a technology specialist. The parent volunteer taught these school leaders to play the ukulele in hopes that they would then be able to bring the instrument to students in the school. And they did just that during the school talent show on the last day of school.

Grafton Village Elementary School PTA, Virginia

Grafton Village Elementary School PTA also focused on supporting the arts in their school community. Their work, in fact, likely could not have been as successful if it were not for their work with community members. Recognizing a lack of art supplies, the Excellence Team and PTA partnered with a local organization to run a successful art fundraiser. With assistance from the school art teacher, students created visual art pieces that could be transformed into a variety of keepsake items that parents could purchase. The funds raised through this went directly to the art teacher at Grafton Village Elementary School which allowed her to purchase more art supplies like clay, paint, and markers for her classroom. Recognizing that not all parents could choose to purchase the keepsakes, the art teacher allowed all students to take their original pieces home so all students could feel a part of the fundraiser.

In another example of community engagement, the PTA partnered with a local boy scout troop and had an Eagle Scout candidate build shelves in the art room for his Eagle Scout project.  The PTA paid for all shelving supplies, while the Eagle Scout candidate provided all the labor and construction. The end result was a beautiful set of shelves to display and dry student’s artwork.

Finally, the Grafton Village Excellence Team partnered with middle and high school students and parents to host a very successful talent show. Student and parent volunteers came to the after-school rehearsals and helped prepare talent show participants so they could shine in the final performance. During the night of the show, volunteers helped to welcome families, hand out programs, serve refreshments, and take photos so participants could remember the night. The final talent show, and all the support from volunteers, highlighted the deep commitment Grafton Village Elementary had not only for supporting the arts, but also further integrating their PTA into the school and local community.

Four Corners PTA, WI   

Four Corners PTA’s greatest accomplishment in strengthening family-school partnerships was the creation of a series of unique art focused activities that helped deepen the PTA and community’s connection to the arts. Four Corners PTA began by hosting a Create Art Night, a new activity for school, with the goal of inviting students and their families to school to create holiday gifts. The event was free to attend and included dinner which severed well over 100 people from the school community.

Four Corners PTA and the school music teacher also partnered with Little Opera of the North to give students the opportunity to perform in an opera. All of the students in the school, Pre-K through fifth grade, watched the final afternoon performance. Parents, families and community members were invited and enjoyed watching the students perform as well. The opera show was a first for many and provided the community with a new way to experience the arts. This was not the only event Four Corners PTA hosted that brought together their community through the arts. One of the art teachers at Four Corners volunteered to lead a Cookies and Canvas night at school for students and family members. Moms, Dads, Aunts and Grandmas followed step-by-step instructions provided by the teachers to create beautiful take home paintings.

The PTA also sponsored events just for the student community. The Spring Fever Family Dance Party was hosted by volunteer parents, including a local DJ and a dance instructor. Between the DJ and the instructor, students learned dances and were helped to feel more comfortable on the dance floor. The PTA also sponsored a weeklong Artist in Residency program as part of their interactive learning initiative. Working with two puppet artists from ArtStart, all grade levels made puppets and participated in a puppet performance piece. The event concluded with an evening puppet show for families that included a free dinner.

The Excellence Team at Four Corners PTA truly saw the benefits of their investment. Their focus in family engagement changed the school community by increasing student, teacher, family and community participation in the family-oriented art events that we held. The PTA saw an increase in membership, volunteers and attendance at school events. Through their focus on community and the arts, more people in the community know and understand the PTA’s mission “to make every child’s potential a reality.”

These are just a few of the School of Excellence designees who made huge strides in embedding arts education into their school communities. If you’re interested in advancing the arts in your community check out all the available resources from the hosts of Arts & Humanities and our partners at Americans for the Arts here. You can also read and download our ArtsEd Guide which provides useful ways for PTAs to explore the arts and incorporate them into their school programming.

And don’t forget to get involved with the School of Excellence program! You can use your work to advance the arts to become a School of Excellence and gain recognition for the work your PTA does to bring transformative family engagement and the arts to your school! Enroll here by October 15 and support the arts in your community!


By: Ellie Miller, Reflections Specialist

 

Meet the 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Winner

This summer, National PTA honored Mark Twain Elementary PTA in Lawndale, California with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award for Outstanding Family-School Partnership. This award is given to top National PTA School of Excellence designees for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvements.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA proved again and again to be incredibly deserving of the designation and this award. Their work throughout the School of Excellence program truly highlighted the positive impacts that can be achieved with hard work and dedication to strengthening family-school partnership.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA began their work in the summer by forming an Excellence Team composed of PTA members, the principal and student support services staff, district communications staff, and bilingual speakers. The PTA was extremely intentional in creating a team that aligned with the school community as well as the district office.

This intentional team-building proved vital in the end. Working with the principal gave the team an important advocate who assisted throughout the School of Excellence program process, while the bilingual speakers, who represented the English language learners (35% of the student population), allowed the Excellence Team to embed Inclusiveness, one of Four I’s of Transformative Family Engagement, into the program planning.

After selecting their Excellence Team and sending out National PTA’s Baseline Survey, Mark Twain Elementary PTA began analyzing the results and setting goals. The team was determined to approach the survey results critically and to use the information gathered to develop a plan that would create tangible change in their community – a critical step to success in the School of Excellence program. While every program participant must survey their community, Mark Twain Elementary PTA made sure to use the survey as a tool to embed one of the Four I’s – Individualized – into their program. By tailoring their program to the survey results, the Excellence Team ensured that their work would benefit their school community thoroughly and intentionally.

The Baseline Survey results indicated that their school community was generally pleased, but that there was a need to focus on improving education and do more with college and career readiness. With generally positive results revealed, Mark Twain Elementary PTA built their action plan around making things better rather than starting from scratch. Using the survey results, they learned what was already working, where families were already showing up and how families were interacting with one another. For example, the Excellence Team noticed that 49% of their survey responses were received by paper. To the team, this showed a community willing to give feedback but one that may benefit from a refreshed and more efficient communication strategy.

As the survey revealed to the Excellence Team that college and career readiness was an area for improvement in their community, Mark Twain Elementary PTA launched their first PTA College and Career Readiness Month. As a first step, the PTA invited parents and caregivers to read books and speak about their careers. With a female-heavy volunteer base, the PTA was pleased that four new dads joined this effort and promised they would return again next year. This increase in male volunteer support was just another example of Mark Twain Elementary PTA embedding inclusion into their School of Excellence program.

The new PTA College and Career Readiness Month also coincided with Spirit Week. Mark Twain Elementary PTA partnered with student support services who helped students write their future career plans on miniature squares. The color-coded squares then created a muraled billboard that aligned current grade levels to a high school graduation year. Many students said this was the first time they thought about their graduation. It was small moments like these – students discussing graduation for the first time or father’s volunteering where they previously had not – that showed the Excellence Team that their work was not falling short. Rather they were, in fact, creating real, positive and long-lasting change.

To close out College and Career Readiness Month, Mark Twain Elementary PTA rebranded one of their biggest traditions to JOG-A-THON 2019: Run Toward Your Future. During the run students wore college gear or clothing that expressed their desired career path. The color-coded mural also made an appearance to remind students about their educational goal and beyond.

While all these events were going on, the PTA made sure to send home bilingual communication about district PSAT workshops, local resources and experiences including STEM Nights and science festivals as well as college scholarships. This ensured that even families and children not present at the events were receiving useful information and resources. They did this purposefully with Inclusion and the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships of “Welcoming all Families” and “Communicating Effectively” in mind. In the end, the thoughtfulness and success led to the declaration that College and Career Readiness Month would be an annual event. Making the event annual allowed Mark Twain Elementary PTA to incorporate another of the vital Four I’s of Transformative Family Engagement – Integration.

At the end of the year, Mark Twain Elementary PTA’s hard work truly paid off. Through the deployment of National PTA’s Final Survey, the PTA saw 11% increase in the number of surveys submitted and a 100% increase in the ‘always’ rating in their survey responses. The PTA also moved the needle in every category and made significant leaps relative to Welcoming All Families (‘always’ up 5%-21%), Supporting Student Success (‘always’ up 5%-18%), Communicating Effectively (‘always’ up 8%-16%), and Speaking Up for Every Child (‘always’ up 6%-17%). Most importantly, the PTA witnessed their highest levels of engagement ever – with more thankful families, increased event attendance, and new volunteers.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA ended the year with much pride in their work and showed they were truly committed to making a positive change in their school community. Before even earning the designation, much less the top honor, the PTA leaders decided that, regardless of their School of Excellence designation, they were going to celebrate their year because they had accomplished so much. The Excellence Team even noted that they accomplished only small portion of all their goals and that they would continue to use the School of Excellence program to drive positive change in their school and community.

You too can see amazing changes in your school community with hard work and support from the School of Excellence program. Learn more about the program at PTA.org/Excellence and make sure to enroll by October 1 to secure your spot on the path to excellence.


Ellie Miller is a programs specialist for National PTA.

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!