The partnership between families and schools is vital to educating children. One organization that has long promoted that partnership is the PTA, formerly known as the Parent Teacher Association, and the related PTSA, or Parent Teacher Student Association.
In Nikiski, PTA chapters at Nikiski and North Star elementary schools sponsor the annual Reflections Program, one of the year's highlights for talented youngsters.
"We try to make it a big deal," said Wally Hufford, a speech teacher at Nikiski Elementary who serves on the Reflections committee.
"Lots of kids are interested."
This year the theme of the creative arts program was, "Wouldn't it be strange if ..."
The school announced its finalists last week, and today it will have an awards assembly to hand out cash awards to them, courtesy of the PTA. The committee already shipped the top artwork off to Seward, where the pieces will be entered in regional competition.
The star of the Nikiski competition is 10-year-old Elizabeth Hammond, a fourth-grader who placed first in three categories and second in the fourth one for her age group. Hufford said the talented youngster wins Reflections prizes every year.
"I've done it since I was in kindergarten," Elizabeth said. "It lets me unleash my creativity."
Elizabeth's mother, Laura Hammond, praised the program's effect on her child.
"I think it did really encourage her," she said.
Elizabeth entered an illustrated story as a kindergartner, and it took first in her category for the school. The experience helped her develop a positive attitude and encouraged her to try things, such as entering contests, learning new media of expression and experimenting creatively, her mother said.
For example, this year the girl entered the musical composition category, a new arena for her.
"This year I was the only one in my whole school to write a song," she said. "I play the clarinet so I can write music now."
The other categories are visual arts, literature and photography.
Students can submit work they did at home or school. In Nikiski, the teachers promote the program, but families create the artwork on their own.
Next year, Hufford said, the school will try to get a grant to help out with art supplies' costs.
The Reflections Program, established in 1969, is a National PTA cultural arts competition designed to encourage students to use their creative talents by expressing themselves through their own original works. More than 600,000 students participate each year, according to the National PTA Web site.
"This is not really a contest," said Lynn Hohl, a Seward PTSA board member and the Region V Reflections chair supervising the regional judging.
"The PTA considers Reflections an arts recognition and achievement program."
Students in kindergarten through grade 12 can enter, although only a few peninsula schools take part. This year only the two Nikiski elementary schools and Seward Middle-Senior High School have entered, she said.
Their finalist artwork will compete with others in the region, which includes Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutians and the Bristol Bay area. Regional finalists will receive ribbons and certificates, and their works must be delivered to Anchorage by Feb. 14.
The state finalists will be displayed at the annual state PTA convention in April in Anchorage. The state is allowed to select 16 finalists, one in each age group for each of the four categories, which will be forwarded to the national PTA, Hohl said.
Outstanding Interpretation of theme awards are given to four students, one in each art area, regardless of age. All state finalists will receive a personalized plaque and be recognized at the annual Reflections award ceremony held at the convention.
Awards of Excellence and Awards of Merit are recognized at the annual National PTA Convention, and the honored works are displayed as a part of the program's nationwide traveling exhibit. All state PTAs are notified of national award recipients each spring in late April, and the National PTA sends awards notification letters directly to students, according to the PTA Web site.
Last year Elizabeth won a first place at regions and a fourth place at the state level for her creative writing. She received a congratulatory letter from Sen. Frank Murkowski.
"I think its really cool, and I'm glad they've got it," she said of Reflections.
She already is looking forward to next year.
Upon hearing that the 2002 theme will be "I hold in my hand ...," she exclaimed, "I've already got some ideas in my head!"
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