Painting Outside the Lines

Welcome to our 48th year of PTA Reflections! I want to briefly introduce myself. I have been involved in the Reflections program for the last 9 years, first as a local Reflection’s Chair and then as Southern Region Chair. I am excited to serve as the Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director. Since 1969, the National PTA Reflections program has encouraged students in preschool through high school from across the nation to challenge their creativity and submit works of art in the areas of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and the visual arts.

A few weeks ago, my family and I traveled north to Chicago for a quick weekend get-away. One of our favorite spots in the city is the Art Institute. My daughter, sister, and I spent Saturday morning (and a good part of the afternoon) wandering through the many galleries of the museum’s main traveling exhibition, “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist.”

Of course, I was familiar with Gauguin’s impressionist paintings from my college Art Appreciation class. He was the guy who went to Tahiti at the end of the 19th century and brought island exoticism into the prim world of still lives and fruit. However, what I learned was there’s a lot more to Paul Gauguin than paintings of Tahitian natives and mangoes.

Did you know that although Gauguin was born in Paris, he spent much of his life outside France? When Gauguin was an infant, his family fled France after the failure of the leftist revolution in 1848 and took refuge in Peru. When he was 17, he joined the merchant marine and later the French navy. He spent six years at sea and circumnavigated the globe twice. It was during this time he honed his extraordinary wood carving skills. Then he settled into the humdrum life of a stockbroker in Paris, marrying a Danish woman, raising five children and painting only on Sundays.

I hate my job. I hate my life. I’m going to Tahiti to paint.

Gauguin did not have formal training at an art school but was lucky enough to befriend a distinguished painter—Camille Pissarro. Pissarro became his mentor both instructing him and helping him meet other Impressionists working in Paris. In his early 30s, Gauguin decided to give up his day job and devote himself completely to painting.

Merriam Webster defines an alchemist as “someone who changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way.” Like an alchemist, Gauguin believed in the artist’s ability to take raw materials and transform them into something entirely new. The exhibit focuses on the vast range of raw materials he used and the many different ways in which he turned them into very beautiful objects. I imagine that you could have given him any raw material, and he would make something beautiful.

In the year of his death (1903, on a French Polynesian island, of course) he said, “It’s precisely an endless kind of art that I’m interested in, rich in all sorts of techniques, suitable for translating all the emotions of nature and humanity.”

Gauguin begged, borrowed and stole to create a unique vision of the world, which is evident in everything from his leaded pottery with colored glazes and unglazed stoneware vases, to decorative walking sticks, a carved wooden barrel, designs for fans and even a small, strange, pearwood sarcophagus with iron hinges.

I heard many visitors express their awe at discovering Gauguin’s skill as a sculptor. I must say I find it strange that sculpture is not something that is necessarily connected to painting. Yes, painting and sculpture and decorative arts are three distinct categories, but what Gauguin was doing was basically blurring all the lines and saying, “Well, art is art.”

And, I agree…art is art.

New to Illinois PTA Reflections This Year

So, it is in this spirit that we have decided to open up the Reflections visual art category this year to include sculpture submissions. The Reflections program asks our children to get creative, and we believe limiting our children’s visual art submissions to two dimensional art suppresses their imagination and creativity. The world would be a very small place without creativity. Stories, photographs, music, paintings and sculptures, dance, and films about the human condition have the ability to relate to a diverse population and allow us to ask questions of our community and of ourselves. We invite the children of Illinois to participate in Reflections this year and share their thoughts and ideas about the theme “Within Reach.”

Reflections Questions?

If you’ve got questions about how to run a PTA Reflections program at your school, sign up for our PTA Reflections Webinar on Sunday, August 27, at 7:30pm. We’ll cover everything you need to know, including forms, judging, and advancing to higher levels. If you can’t make it, contact Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director Laura Murphy at lmurphy@illinoispta.org.

PTA SPOTLIGHT 2017: A Story of Art and Celebration

On May 13, the Illinois PTA 4th Annual SPOTLIGHT: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community was held at Millikin University in Decatur. This year, 235 participants viewed the galleries, participated in workshops, and celebrated our children. We thank Mother Nature for providing our families a perfect day to make a day trip to Decatur and to be outside on the Millikin campus on their way to and from workshops.

Our story began last fall when students across the country were asked, “What is your story?” and the students in Illinois answered. Our children’s stories, depicted though their art, filled the galleries of Kirkland Fine Arts Center. This year, 166 Visual Arts pieces and 100 Photography pieces filled the walls of Kirkland Fine Art Center while 132 Literature, 50 Music Compositions, 54 Film Productions, and 53 Dance Choreography pieces were available for viewing. In total, 555 stories from our talented artists were available for public viewing in their chosen form of art.

The Story is Forever Changing

The SPOTLIGHT story continues to add new chapters. This year, 3 new workshops were added for our artists and their families to participate in:

  • Intro to Hip Hop invited our youngest guests to get up and move
  • Fun in the Sun–Solar Printing participants made a fun image using the light of the sun (thank you to Mother Nature for helping out here)
  • Intro to Acting encouraged creative expression and storytelling

These workshops were created by Milliken Art Education students and faculty members. These new workshops along with some favorites from past years had our families drumming, dancing, writing, drawing, sculpting, and more throughout the afternoon. All of the new workshops and many of the others were filled to capacity. The Illinois PTA Board of Directors once again hosted A Little of This, A Little of That… workshop for our youngest attendees and their families, where they tried they hands at 8 different projects during the 2 sessions.

Newly created art pieces from the workshops were shared as families gathered in the galleries between and after workshops. Many praises and thanks were extended to Illinois PTA, Millikin faculty members, and Millikin University Art Education students for making these workshops available and enjoyable for the children and the families attending with them.

Recognizing Students and their Stories

Our Recognition Celebration was definitely the highlight of the day. With family and friends there to help use celebrate, we recognized and personally thanked 71 students for participating in the National PTA Reflections program in Illinois and the Illinois PTA scholarship program. A total of 37 participants, 19 honorable mentions, 3 special artists, and 11 advancers to National crossed the stage. We also were able to honor Madelyne Ashbaugh, one of two Illinois PTA Scholarship recipients for 2017. The smiles of our students lit up the stage as they received their certificates, ribbons, and medals from Illinois PTA President Matthew Rodriguez. Backstage, our students posed for a group photos before returning to their seats.

Highlights from Spotlight 2017

  • Special Artist Toma Obayashi’ playfulness backstage as he waited for his name to be called. (Note: If we were outside Toma, I would have let you really pop that balloon under your foot.)
  • A mother that thanked us for displaying all the children’s artwork as her son showed his artwork to everyone, “He (her son) is so proud to have everyone see his picture.”
  • Sophia and Abigail O’Quinn holding hands and jumping up and down when their realized that this year they would both be going on stage to receive their recognition. Pure joy!
  • Alex Murphy’s look of surprise when he won the guitar donated by Guitar World USA.

SPOTLIGHT: Not Just an Event

SPOTLIGHT is not just another event; it is a story in and of itself. It has main characters, the children that shared their story through their art and their families that attend. It has a beautiful setting because of the commitment Millikin University has to celebrating children and the Arts. And it has supporting cast members that make it possible, the volunteers of Illinois PTA that understand, support, and believe in what we have built together for our children. As Illinois PTA President Matthew John Rodriguez said, “There are many Reflections recognition events run by state PTAs, but none come close to what SPOTLIGHT provides for children and families.” During the next couple days, we hope you reflect on this year’s SPOTLIGHT event and it brings a smile to your face. If you attended, we would love to hear from you, and please share some of your highlight moments from the day with us.

A photo album from SPOTLIGHT 2017 available on the Illinois PTA Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/2017PTASPOTLIGHT

National PTA Announces 2015-2016 Reflections Results

During the past school year, through the National PTA level of the Reflections Program, nearly 300,000 students in over 8,000 schools across the country and in U.S. schools overseas contributed their original works in dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts to be considered for PTA’s highest honor in the arts.

For each arts category, one Outstanding Interpretation Award is chosen. Then, for each age group in each arts category, three Awards of Excellence and five Awards of Merit are selected as well. Illinois PTA is pleased to announce that three Illinois students were recognized this year by National PTA:

Award of Excellence

  • Jessica Liu: High School, Literature, DuPage West Region

Award of Merit

  • Sara Dixon: High School, Film Production, DuPage West Region
  • Holly Bulthuis: High School, Visual Arts, South Suburban Cook Region

Illinois PTA congratulates these students on their success. We look forward to seeing what all of our children do with next year’s PTA Reflections theme, “Within Reach.”

News from National Convention—Plan Your PTA Year with National PTA Programs

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOne of the major benefits of having a PTA is being able to take advantage of National PTA’s numerous free turn-key programs. A workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention spelled out how PTA leaders can plan their entire PTA year using these programs. By taking advantage of these programs, PTAs can easily and effectively:

  • Address important issues in their school
  • Support the school’s education goals
  • Engage families in the school and PTA
  • Grow their membership

School of Excellence

Based on PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, the School of Excellence program helps PTAs partner with their school to welcome families and empower them to support student success. PTAs choose to focus their family engagement efforts on one of three topics: Education, Health and Safety, or the Arts. The program uses a Family-School Partnership Scan to develop a family engagement improvement plan tailored specifically to your PTA and school. The survey is repeated at the end of the year to document the improvements that your PTA has accomplished.

The timeline for the School of Excellence program is:

  • Enroll your PTA in the program between April 1, 2016 and October 1, 2016.
  • Complete your Family-School Partnership Scan by December 1, 2016 to receive your customized Roadmap to Excellence.
  • Complete the National PTA School of Excellence application before June 1, 2017.
  • Celebrate your excellence! All National PTA School of Excellence recipients receive a toolkit to support celebration activities.

The School of Excellence program has documented its success in making all families feel welcome, helping schools communicate effectively, and more. Sign up today to start your PTA on the path to excellence!

Reflections

Reflections is PTA’s longest-running and most widely recognized program, providing over 300,000 students the opportunity to engage with the arts each year. Students enter artwork based on a specific theme at the local level in one of six categories:

  • Visual Arts
  • Photography
  • Music Composition
  • Film/Video Production
  • Dance Choreography
  • Literature

A Special Artist category began a few years ago to include those students who need accommodations to participate in the program.

After judging at the local PTA level, student artwork advances through the council, district or region, state, and national level. National winners are displayed at the US Department of Education and highlighted in an online gallery by National PTA.

The 2016-2017 Reflections theme is “What Is Your Story?” You can find entry forms, tools to run a Reflections program at your school, and much more on the Illinois PTA website. Contact Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director Joan Scovic at jscovic@illinoispta.org to be added to the Illinois PTA e-mail list for Reflections chairpersons or if you have any questions about the program.

Family Reading Experience

March is National Reading Month, and PTA has the Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle ready to help PTAs engage families in a fun event to help them understand the simple ways they can support their child’s core literacy skills for kindergartners through fifth-graders. In addition, PTAs that register their March 2017 Family Reading Experience event by December 1, 2016 are entered into a drawing for free Kindles for their school.

The Family Reading Experience provides PTAs with all the tools they need to promote their event as well as all of the materials needed at the activity stations. There are four different themes available, with materials split between grades K-2 and grades 3-5:

  • On a Safari
  • Under the Sea
  • Out of this World
  • Around the World

The variety of themes lets PTAs rotate the materials from year to year or to have another event sometime other than March. Materials are also available in Spanish to support your school’s English Language Learners.

Take Your Family to School Week

Take Your Family to School Week occurs each February around the founding date of PTA, February 17. This year’s Take Your Family to School Week will be held from February 13-17, 2017. The Take Your Family to School Week Toolkit provides your PTA with ready-to-use event guides to bring families into your school, including a Creative Career Fair, a Multicultural Expo, and other PTA programs highlighted in this article. The toolkit also provides promotional materials in both English and Spanish as well as sample letters to request donations, contact the media, thank volunteers and sponsors, and highlight your event on social media.

Connect for Respect

Connect for Respect (C4R) is National PTA’s initiative to help students, parents and educators to create school climates full of safe and supportive peer relationships. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Positive school climates exist in schools where students, families and educators all work collaboratively to build a culture of respect.

The Connect for Respect Toolkit guides PTA leaders on ways to engage students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying. The toolkit also includes materials to help build a team, to assess the current school climate, to engage your school community in a dialogue, and to develop an action plan to address the issue. The toolkit also provides links to resources from other organizations on bullying prevention.

Healthy Lifestyles

November is Healthy Lifestyles Month, and PTA has a wide variety of programs available to help PTAs approach this issue. These programs include the Improving Energy Balance Toolkit to help families balance healthy eating and exercise and the Fire Up Your Feet program that helps PTAs raise funds while engaging students and families in physical activity. PTA also provides information to help local PTAs advocate for:

Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship

National PTA collaborated with LifeLock to create The Smart Talk interactive website to help families have conversations about responsible technology use and put their agreed-upon rules into writing. PTA also created a promotional toolkit to encourage families to begin the conversation. The program has been well received, and PTA is now creating a Smart Talk Event Kit that will be available soon to help PTAs host a digital safety event.

Every Child in Focus

National PTA’s Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations and by sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. Each month, National PTA spotlights the educational issues surrounding a particular group, highlights their accomplishments, and focuses on ways to help engage families. The campaign is a school-year-long series that provides educators, families, and PTAs with the information they need to deepen family engagement in schools through the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

The campaign reinforces National PTA’s mission to advocate for every child—with one voice—so all families feel invited and welcomed within PTA and are equipped with the tools to support their child and improve the school, which makes a difference for every child. National PTA provides a variety of ways that your local PTA can engage with the campaign. A guide for hosting a leadership event focused on Hispanic students is already available, with event guides for students living in poverty and LBGTQ students coming soon.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week will be May 1-5, 2017, and National PTA has now created an event toolkit to help PTAs celebrate the teachers that are making a difference in the lives of children every day. The toolkit features thank you cards, appreciation certificates, flyers, ready-to-use graphics for newsletters and social media, and messages ready to share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

STEM + Families

National PTA’s newest program is the STEM + Families Initiative that was announced at the 2016 National PTA Convention. Created in partnership with Bayer and Mathnasium, National PTA plans to provide 100,000 STEM experiences for families by June 2018. Program details will be coming out over the next few months, but everyone who cares about STEM education can take the STEM + Families Pledge to connect to the initiative and receive more information as it becomes available.

National PTA Back-to-School Kit

The National PTA Back-to-School Kit is now available and provides PTA leaders with ready-to-use information and resources on running a PTA. This year’s Back-to-School Kit is a restricted member benefit, so PTA members will need to register for free access to the kit. Registration is quick and easy, and National PTA has created a short video to describe the registration process. In addition, PTA leaders at the local, council, district, region, and state level that register for the Back-to-School Kit will receive a special membership recruitment packet in the mail approximately three to four weeks after registering.

PTA SPOTLIGHT 2016: An Amazing Day of Art and Celebration

Spotlight Header
What an amazing day was had by all at this year’s SPOTLIGHT: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community held at Millikin University in Decatur, IL. This year, 298 participants viewed the galleries, participated in workshops, and celebrated our children, a 39% increase over last year’s attendance. While the weather outside was gloomy, smiles brightened the Kirkland Fine Arts Center and Millikin campus throughout the day.

Having one’s art hung in a professional gallery is the dream of any artist, and our PTA Reflections’ students are no different. This year, 158 Visual Arts pieces and 96 Photography pieces graced the walls of Kirkland Fine Art Center while 106 Literature, 57 Music Compositions, 54 Film Productions, and 46 Dance Choreography pieces were available for viewing. In total, 517 creations from our talented artists were available for public viewing.

Workshops Offered New Creative Opportunities

Two sessions of workshops were offered this year, and both were well attended and enjoyed despite the rainy walk to reach some of them. Created primarily by Milliken Art Education students, the workshops had children drumming, dancing, writing, drawing, sculpting, and more throughout the afternoon. This is the first year that early registration for some workshops was closed because the maximum capacity had been reached. The Illinois PTA Board of Directors’ Workshop “A Little of This, A Little of That…” had more than 30 children participate in the first session and 40 children in the second session.

Newly created art pieces were shared as families gathered in the galleries between and after workshops. Many praises and thanks were extended to Illinois PTA, Millikin faculty members, and Millikin University Art Education students for making these workshops available and enjoyable for the children. A mother attending with her children wrote, “A great day of celebrating creativity. Even though we were there because of competition, the day was filled with nurturing and inspiration for the students and their families. The volunteers who piloted the workshops did so with a sense of humor and gentle guidance. Kudos to the organizers for a job well done.”

Recognizing Student Success

Our Recognition Celebration was definitely the highlight of the day. With the glow of Miss Illinois’ crown helping light the stage, we were able to recognize and personally thank 80 students participating in the National PTA Reflections program in Illinois and the Illinois PTA scholarship program. A total of 39 participations, 22 honorable mentions, 3 special artists, and 13 advancers to National crossed the stage. We also were able to honor 3 of our 4 Illinois PTA Scholarship recipients. There was nothing but smiles as they waited backstage to hear their names called, and nothing but pride after leaving the stage to pose for group pictures with Matthew Rodriguez, Illinois PTA President.

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Highlights from Spotlight

  • Gavin Jursa, age 3, racing out to the front of the stage and Master of Ceremonies Brian Minsker, Illinois PTA President-Elect, running to go bring him back and lead him across the stage.
  • Sara Dixon’s smile as she crossed the stage as an Advancer to National and then again as a $1,000 Millikin Talent Scholarship recipient.
  • When Miss Illinois visited the “A Little of This, A Little of That…” workshop, a child was heard saying, “They even have a princess!”
  • When asked to complete the survey to help us plan for next year, a mother, leading her two children with their creations from their workshops in hand said, “Why take the survey, you can’t make this any better. It is a great event already!”

An Event Like No Other

Until you have attended, SPOTLIGHT may seem like just another event, but it isn’t. It is special because of the children and families that attend. It has a home because of the commitment Millikin University has to celebrating children and the Arts. It is possible because the volunteers of Illinois PTA understand, support, and believe in what we have built together for our children. As Illinois PTA President Matthew John Rodriguez said during his welcome, there are many Reflections recognition events run by state PTAs, but none come close to what SPOTLIGHT provides for children and families. During the next couple days, we hope you reflect on this year’s SPOTLIGHT event and it brings a smile to your face. If you attended, we would love to hear from you, and please share some of your highlight moments from the day with us.

A photo album from SPOTLIGHT 2016 available at: http://tinyurl.com/2016PTASPOTLIGHT.

National PTA Announces 2015-2016 Reflections Results

During the past school year, through the National PTA level of the Reflections Program, nearly 300,000 students in over 8,000 schools across the country and in U.S. schools overseas contributed their original works in dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts to be considered for PTA’s highest honor in the arts.

For each arts category, one Outstanding Interpretation Award is chosen. Then, for each age group in each arts category, three Awards of Excellence and five Awards of Merit are selected as well. Illinois PTA is pleased to announce that seven Illinois students were recognized this year by National PTA:

Award of Excellence

  • Blake Attig: Special Artist Division, Music Composition, South Suburban Cook Region
  • Kylie Buedel: Intermediate Division, Dace Choreography, DuPage West Region
  • Ethan Dawes: Intermediate Division, Film Production, DuPage West Region

Award of Merit

  • Pete Benoit: Primary Division, Film Production, DuPage West Region
  • Emma Cho: Middle School Division, Music Composition, DuPage West Region
  • Morgan Murphy: Middle School Division, Film Production, Southern Region
  • Andrew Soler: Primary Division, Photography, Northern Region

Illinois PTA congratulates these students on their success. We look forward to seeing what all of our children do with next year’s PTA Reflections theme, “What Is Your Story?”