Over 300 students from 13 SMMUSD schools created thought provoking artwork inspired by the prompt “I matter because” as part of the nationwide PTA Reflections Art Program.

The theme, which was chosen prior to the events of 2020, could not have been more timely. During a year of isolation, uprising, and calls for justice students channeled their experiences and emotions into dance choreography, creative writing, photography, film production, music composition, and the visual arts.

“The mission for the Reflections Art Program is to let children’s creativity come out and to inspire them to express themselves and find joy in the different skills you need for different types of art,” said Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council President Gabrielle Cohen.

Every year PTAs across the District organize the art program at their school and encourage students to use critical thinking skills to interpret the theme and express themselves imaginatively.

PTA Council Reflections Chair April Fields initially worried that less students would be motivated to participate during remote learning this year, but was very impressed to see 323 submissions come in.

“I’m completely blown away by the talent of our kids and how they’re able to express themselves through these different artistic categories,” said Fields.

Inspired by the “I matter because” prompt, students’ artwork grappled with a range of complex themes including isolation, sacrifice, social justice, and self-worth, no doubt drawing on experiences from an exceptionally challenging year.

Eloise Siegler, a 3rd grade student at Franklin Elementary, was selected as a winner for her black and white photography submission of a child dressed as a doctor.

“To me, that child represents a future generation of frontline workers. She is important because that child would be the one saving lives in a crisis like Covid-19,” wrote Siegler in her artist’s statement. “EVERY person matters, but I wanted to point out that healthcare workers save lives every day and they are essential in every way!”

Another particularly poignant submission came from Kayla Lewis-Koury, a senior at Samohi, who created a film from her experience at a Black Lives Matter protest.

“This is a video taken on May 30th in Downtown LA at a protest against the racist killings of black people and the police brutality in America. In this video, I was shot in the foot, tear gassed and pepper sprayed. Our lives matter and even more so, our lives are sacred,” wrote Lewis-Koury in her artist’s statement.

Of the 323 students that submitted art pieces, 24 were selected as District winners by a group of judges that are experts in each art genre. These winners go forward to regional selections and potentially to the state and national levels.

The PTA Reflections Art Program has been running since 1969 and involved more than 10 million students across the country. While the program is a competition, its mission is to inspire students to delve deeper into the art world and use it as a tool for self reflection and expression.