On Tuesday, Jan. 14, the Department was privileged to host the opening of an exhibit of art works by winners of the National PTA’s 2014 Reflections Program competition. For nearly half a century, the National PTA has inspired millions of students to become involved in the arts through Reflections, and each year many of the winners are recognized at the Department in its Student Art Exhibit Program with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open an exhibit of their work. This year’s exhibit includes 65 works by K–12 students from across the country and in U.S. schools abroad on the theme The Magic of a Moment. Writing, dance and film are also showcased in the exhibit.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton welcomed guests to the Department and delivered the important message that arts education matters for “every school and every child.” As Shelton pointed out, “The research is clear that art helps our kids do better at everything.” This includes the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Shelton reflected that not only does art tell a child’s personal story, but it also gives the U.S. a vital leading edge over other nations in “creativity, design, and innovation.”
PTA President Otha Thornton explained that the PTA’s mission is to engage parents to make sure their students’ education is challenging and rewarding. A way to do this, he said, reiterating Shelton’s message, includes adding “the A” for art to STEM, and bringing STEAM to every school’s curricula. The arts in education, Thornton said, “[help] students develop critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills that the core subjects can’t foster alone.”
Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), spoke about the importance of art as a tool to solve schools’ performance problems. Goslins focused on the PCAH Turnaround Arts initiative, which, in partnership with the Department and other public and private entities, has brought intensive arts programs to the lowest-performing schools. The initiative is transforming them, both in terms of improved academic results and a positive school culture.
Reflections Committee Chair Dawn Small thanked the student artists, many of whom were in attendance with their families, for their inspiration and, in keeping with this year’s Reflections theme, for demonstrating how the arts can be magical. She shared one magical moment she experienced — a phone call from a past Reflections winner who was asking for her winning piece from second grade back so she could display it at her 16th birthday party!
One of the students in attendance, Haley Young, a winner at the primary school level, was happy to have traveled from Ohio to D.C. with her mother to celebrate her favorite subject — art. Strong created the whimsical, torn paper, collage piece, The Cat Who Smells Flowers, depicting her cat named, according to her piece’s theme, Rose.
Second-grade winner Emma Dunwoody came to the opening with her family from Texas to see her mixed-media piece, Mermaid Adventures, and to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Emma said that she was amazed by “all of the stuff” underwater, which inspired her to make her award-winning work.
Jessica Clay, a high school senior and award winner for dance choreography in the newly created Special Artist Division for students with disabilities, performed her winning dance, Born to Be Somebody, with freshman dancer Kendyl Kokoyama. The piece about making dreams come true showed that creativity and expression are unlimited when they are nurtured in arts programs and given the freedom to expand. The two dancers, both from California, decided to perform together after Kokoyama saw Clay perform another state Reflections-winning dance, which then inspired Kokoyama to create her own dance that also later won a state award.
Eighth-grader Bailey Callahan from Florida sang and performed on guitar her award-winning composition, The Magic of Moments. The song about the fleeting nature of life showcased an emerging talent supported by access to arts education. Callahan is releasing her first album in February.
The ceremony closed with a ribbon-cutting by the student artists in attendance — including special student guests from D.C.’s Amidon-Bowen Elementary School — to mark the official opening of the exhibit. Guests were then invited to browse the splendid works on display, meet each other — especially the many heads of leading arts organizations and national and regional PTA officials — and enjoy a lunch buffet, courtesy of the National PTA.
The exhibit can be seen through the end of February in the Department’s headquarters lobby at 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, D.C.
Click here to see additional photos from the exhibit opening.
Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach.
Department of Education photos are by Joshua Hoover.