Contest shines light on the artists within

PTA's Reflections program recognizes kids' creativity

November 12, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Faced with the task of documenting the theme "A Different Kind of Hero" in 2004, Connor Mohan took photographs of people in the county sheriff's office, Marines based in Annapolis, teachers at school and his mother at work.

He arranged the photos in a collage, and submitted it to a PTA-sponsored arts program in which his project earned an award. After skipping the annual program last year, Connor is back at it this year with a project for the theme "My Favorite Place."

"My favorite place is `In my head.' I want to create a photo collage that depicts the things in my imagination," said the 12-year-old Fallston seventh-grader said. "It's going to be really fun making it up."

Connor is among about 500,000 students nationwide in preschool through grade 12 who are taking part in Reflections, a national PTA program. Started in 1969, the program is one of the longest-running and most popular PTA programs at the national level, and gives children a chance to create works of art and receive recognition, said James Martinez, a spokesman for the National PTA in Washington.

"Parents realize the importance of an arts education," he said. "And this program gives children a broad range of ways to express themselves artistically."

The students create an original work in one of four areas: literature, musical composition, photography or visual arts.

There's something for everyone, said Kathy Lamas, the PTA president at Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air.

"Reflections gives children a chance to do something everyone else isn't doing," Lamas said. "It's a chance for them to use their imaginations and be honored for it."

Entries are divided into four divisions: primary (preschool to grade two), intermediate (grades three to five), middle (grades six to eight) and senior (grades nine to 12). Winners at the school level can advance to county, district, council, state and then national levels.

Awards are determined by each PTA at the local level. At the national level, recognition includes three awards of excellence, five awards of merit, and one outstanding interpretation, chosen from the awards of excellence, in each arts area, said Martinez.

The recipients of the outstanding interpretation awards receive a trip to the National PTA Convention for themselves and one adult, where they are recognized in a ceremony for their work. Also, all of the students who are recognized nationally have their work posted on the national PTA Web site.

Despite the program's popularity nationwide, Harford schools report a steady decline in participation over the past decade. In response, local PTAs are creating new initiatives that include prizes and teacher incentives for classes with the most entries.

And although Homestead/Wakefield had 70 entries, including multiple entries from several children last year, Lamas said they are attempting to increase participation by offering incentives to teachers who have the most participating pupils.

"We are a large school [about 958 students] so we want to get everyone on board to get as many entries as possible," Lamas said. "This year we are recruiting the help of the teachers."

Program participation varies by community, said Martinez.

"We believe that students have to focus on the arts as well as academics," said Martinez. "Communities with parents who believe that an arts education is important have the highest level of participation. This program is designed to cater to those communities."

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