A Reflection on Reflections

A blank canvas lay in front of her, paints and brushes beside it idly watching as she struggled to begin sketching out her drawing. It was two days before the deadline and junior Rylee Moss had just made the decision to submit her artwork to the Reflections contest. As she stared at the canvas, one question ran through her mind: Why do I matter?

The PTSA Reflections contest is a yearly national art competition that allows students K-12 to enter into a variety of artistic categories including: Dance Choreography, Film, Literature, Music Composition, Photography, and Visual Arts. Students must submit pieces that represent a theme, this year’s being “I matter because.” After submission, the pieces are judged at the school, county, state and national levels with select pieces moving on through each level. While county level winners were announced in January, State winners will be announced in March with a celebration on May 1. County winners at Hagerty include: London Weaver, Devynn Sunderman, Alexandra Zwarycz, Bradley Uhler, Kelly Krawczyk, Carter Oakman, Natalia Cruz, Jace Vail, Riley Grubb, Taylor Philpot, Annika Yun, Rylee Moss, Emerson Keene and Jack Kimball.

Reflections seeks to bolster nationwide creativity, giving students the chance to be appreciated and earn rewards for their art including cash prizes of up to $800.  In school environments, many artistic students feel they are underappreciated are discouraged from pursuing artistic careers and hobbies. The PTSA hopes to reverse that feeling by showing students that self-expression matters and art has value to both the world and themselves. 

“[Reflections] helps [students] explore their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas, develop artistic literacy, increase confidence, and find a love for learning that will help them become more successful in school and in life,” Reflections chair Katie Vail said. 

The students who entered are constantly developing their skills as artists and vying for a chance to display their artistic capability. Moss, who painted a self-portrait meant to represent how the most mundane people can change the world, had never been acknowledged for her art.

“I never took an art class or did any art competitions before so this was unexpected,” Moss said in response to winning at the county level, “ It feels like I’m being recognized.”

For others it affirmed their artistic abilities, giving recognition to their skills and give them the boost of confidence they needed to continue improving.

“The reflections contest showed me that I do have the ability to do something I’m proud of with film production” sophomore Bradley Uhler said, who won at the county level.

This year’s theme of “I Matter Because” was meant to encourage self-reflection among students. In a time where concerns about student’s mental health have been brought to the forefront, the PTSA felt it was important to prompt students to consider their purpose and understand their impact on the world. Though some students struggled with the prompt, others saw it as especially relevant. 

“Sometimes we forget our purpose and why we matter so it was a good reminder” senior Alex Zrawycz said, who entered the Dance Choreography category.

The theme is particularly relevant in recent years due to political movements like the Black Lives Matter movement, with many challenging current societal problems and evaluating their positions in American society. Uhler tackled these events in his film entry. 

“I think the theme was very good this year, as 2020 was a bit of a crazy year with all the protesting and people standing up for their rights” Uhler said. 

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, it has been a challenge collecting Reflections entries this year as well as garnering student participation. The PTA has been relying on social media to release information and spread awareness for the contest. This year, there were fewer entries compared to years prior, however the large majority of those entries have moved on from the county level. 

In the coming years, the PTSA is hopeful that the Reflections contest will continue to provide an outlet for self-expression for creative students across the country.