October 2, 2020
Artistic expression releases the creativity of its creator, and it inspires arts enthusiasts to use their imaginations to see the world from new perspectives. The arts open doors to social expression, emotional connections, and increased efficacy in academics (Silverstein and Layne, 2010). Painting, sculpting, music, dance – all of these disciplines afford children an opportunity to develop and enhance their coordination, build their confidence, and hone their talents. The value of arts education has been debated for years, and although there is a continuing movement toward arts integration and social emotional learning (SEL), Bowen and Kisida (2019) studied of over 10,000 upper primary and middle school students in Houston TX who were intermittently exposed to arts education, and concluded that have concluded that students receiving arts education had fewer disciplinary issues, increased efficacy in language arts, and amplified emotional capacity for compassion.
The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) understands the value of arts education. For over 50 years, PTA has advocated for arts education and nurtured artistic development in public school students through its Reflections Arts Program and Competition. The goals of this program, that reaches over 300,000 Pre-K-12 students, encourages critical thought and ideas and the exploration of viewpoints, advances artistic literacy, and increases student confidence which helps nurture success in academics and in life. The Maryland PTA administers the Reflections program for the state with the goal of reaching every public-school student in every county in Maryland.
The Reflections competition features six arts categories at every grade division – dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. There is also a competition for special artists in each arts category. To enter, students must be students at a public school that meets the standards of affiliation with the Maryland PTA. And all submission must the original work of each student entrant.
By engaging children in the selection of contest themes, and then awarding winners for not only their talent but also their interpretation of the theme through their art form, Reflections builds confidence and success in the arts by supporting the social emotional learning needs of children. Part of the program’s success is that it allows students to produce and exhibit their comprehension as demonstrated in their art form. It also promotes student engagement in the creative process – from interpretation to performance – thereby connecting the art form and language arts. Students of every age can benefit from this approach because the competition helps them to draw on their prior knowledge and reflect on what a concept (theme) means to them. It also provides an opportunity for students to enrich their understanding of a concept (theme) (Silverstein and Layne, 2010).
Programs like the PTA Reflections Arts Program is a prime example of engaging students in the creative process and rewarding their efforts, thereby building confidence in each child’s ability to excel. Parents, staff, and faculty must consider the long-range aptitude of our students and the potential benefits of this type of arts engagement. All of us should consider their gifts and talents, and then encourage that development. Ask them: What do you do well? How can you use your creative self to do what I enjoy doing so much? Whether they sing, dance, paint pictures, do edits with photos or video, play an instrument, act, or take photos, we undoubtedly should support and nurture their talents, encourage them to hone their crafts, and engage them in activities that expand their artforms. Now is the time to get our students involved in the arts.