Within Reach

Story and images provided by Anu Sukhdial

If you were one of many audience members who attended concerts or performances at the Stillwater High School Performing Arts Center (PAC) this past December, you were in for a real treat! You likely saw watercolor paintings, pencil drawings, short stories and poems about places near and far, photographs of butterflies and beyond, musical compositions, home movies and impromptu dance routines.  These were original, and creative works created by Stillwater Public School students for the Stillwater PTA Reflections Arts program.

The National PTA Reflections program encourages students in preschool through 12th grade to submit original works of art in several major categories – literature, photography, dance choreography, film/video production, music composition and  the visual arts – reflecting on a specific theme. The theme for this year’s program is “Within Reach.”  Within each category, there are four major age/grade divisions that students compete in:  Primary (pre-K through 2nd grades), Intermediate (3rd-5th grades), Middle School (6th-8th grades), and High School (9th-12 grades).  The students’ works are judged by an outside panel of judges comprised of retired or current Oklahoma State University (OSU) faculty and staff as well as arts and humanities professionals from the larger Stillwater community.  There is also a special artist division option for students with disabilities to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in the  program.  

Nearly 300,000 students across the country participate in Reflections each year. Both participants and award winners are recognized each year for their artistic ingenuity to bring the theme to life in a way that is personal and thoughtful. Local winners advance to the state competition, and state winners advance to a final, national round of competition.

This year, the Reflections Celebrations of the Arts and Awards Ceremony, organized by the Stillwater PTA Council, was held on December 8th, 2017, 6-7:30pm, at the Performing Arts Center. Stillwater Public Schools had 124 entries by 116 students (students have the option to submit an entry in more than one arts category); 44 students’ works were chosen to advance to the state competition which will take place in February/March 2018.  They included entries from students across five Stillwater elementary schools (Highland Park, Sangre Ridge, Skyline, Will Rogers and Westwood) as well as Stillwater Middle School, Stillwater Junior High School, and Stillwater High School.  

Although visual arts was by far the most popular category with more than 80 students submitting drawings, sketches, and paintings for the Reflections program, Stillwater students also participated across all the other categories, including photography, literature, dance choreography, music composition, and film/video production.

“I am honored to speak to this audience about the arts and why the arts is so important in our kids’ education,” said chief guest speaker, Dr. Rebecca Brienen, Vennerberg Chair of Art and Department Head of Art, Art History, and Graphic Design at OSU.  Dr. Brienen is also Director of the new Stillwater Center for the Arts, a community-based art center featuring public art programming and classes for children and adults. Other speakers included Dr. Marc Moore, Superintendent of Stillwater Public Schools, and Mr. Lincoln Cochran, who worked for the past decade as the Director of Theatre Arts for the Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, and is currently serving as the 2017-2018 Oklahoma PTA State Reflections Chair.  

All participants, followed in sequence by the Awards of Merit Recipients and then the Awards of Excellence Recipients were honored by category by age division and by school.  The final award of the evening was a personal favorite of the judges, and is called the Visual Arts Judges’ Choice Award. It is given to one student in each of the three age/grade divisions (elementary, middle school, and high school) whose artwork they found to be most original and which best interprets the 2017-2018 Reflections theme, “Within Reach.”

As the evening came to a close, everyone lined out of the PAC and took another long look at the colorful and fantastic works of art hanging in the front hall on large wall panels/displays. Under the lights of the holiday tree, the mood was festive, bright and aspirational…for those students who participated in the 2017-2018 Stillwater PTA Reflections program, they are using their talents and passion to reach high…and with hard work and commitment, we know their reach will only grow higher and higher.  We look forward to continued strong participation by Stillwater students in next year’s PTA Reflections program, and good luck to all the students who have advanced to the state competition

About the Author: Anu Sukhdial, 2017-2018 Stillwater PTA Reflections Chair, is a mother of two boys who attend Westwood Elementary School.  

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