Friday, November 4, 2016

Reflections program offers students chance to tell their own story - By Elizabeth Richards

Now is the time for Windham students to get creative and submit their best work to the Windham PTA Reflections program. The program kick-off was Monday, October 21st, and students have until November 18th to enter their work.

This is the second consecutive year the Reflections program has been offered in Windham. After many years of participation, the PTA took a break, but brought the program back last year. In that first year back, the competition drew approximately 100 entries over three categories. 

The local program is part of the National PTA’s signature program, according to Chelsea Sperry, treasurer for the Windham PTA. 

“The point is to bring out all the artists in the schools, to show their artistic talent,” she said. Students in grades K-12 can submit work in four categories – visual arts, photography, literature, and new to Windham in 2017 is a music composition category. Submissions must follow the theme “What is Your Story?” “[The theme] is broad, but it will be very interesting to hear kids tune into what is important to them,” Sperry said. 

“I think this theme is great to engage kids to talk about their joys, their struggles, whatever they would like to,” said Nicole Foster, PTA secretary. “They don’t have to be the artsy kids, the kid who likes to write, or who signed up and paid registration to be there,” she said.

One of the appealing aspects of the program is how open it is to anyone, especially since there is no fee to enter. Foster said the program seems designed for kids who aren’t those who are signed up for everything. “It’s an opportunity for kids who might not have as many involvements for whatever reason to get some recognition,” she said.

There’s a lot that goes into putting this program together, and the PTA has a small committee of volunteers committed to making this year’s program a success. The task is not without challenges, though. Historically, said Foster, submissions were worked on and collected in the classroom. Parents had to sign permission for the entries to be submitted, but the work was primarily done during school hours. 

“Times have changed,” Foster said. “How [teachers] have to use their time has changed, so they’re not able to do that.” This means the task of helping children find time to work on their piece, make sure rules are followed, and complete the registration form falls on the families far more than it did in the past. “It’s been a big shift in terms of when the work is done, and who is supporting the kids’ efforts,” Foster said. 

Reflections chair Kathleen Vail said that last year one of the biggest hurdles was getting complete registration forms and making sure the rules were followed. This year, she said, they need to emphasize that it’s really important to follow rules and fill in all areas of the entry form.
Ernesta Kennedy, PTA communications chair, said “It’s very important that the details are noted and met, because unfortunately if they don’t meet those needs they won’t be able to qualify for the contest part of the program.”

Rules and entry forms were sent out via the list serve in October, and copies are available at each school as well. The committee is reaching out to teachers who can champion student efforts, even if they aren’t able to offer class time for the work. 

“I think that students respect their teachers,” said Sperry. “That’s why this year we’re putting a focus on getting those champion teachers in each school.” These teachers can remind students of the program, and create the excitement that might make a student go home and let their family know it’s important to them, Sperry said. The PTA is also working with the afterschool program to assist children who would like to enter.

A recognition banquet is planned. All students who submit work will be invited to this banquet and receive a certificate for their efforts. “I think it’s important for kids to be recognized in different areas,” said Vail. She added that the committee would like to see more middle school and high school entries than they have in the past.

Submissions are being accepted in four categories and four grade divisions – K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Local judging will occur in early January, with the local winners being submitted to the state competition. Last year, of five entries submitted to the state competition, three went on to the national level.

Deadline for submissions is earlier this year, to avoid the hectic holiday season. Students can bring submissions – with completed registration forms – to their teachers, who will get it into the hands of the committee. Rules and entry forms are available at each school in Windham. Anyone with questions should contact the Windham PTA Reflections Committee.

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