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an arts recognition and achievement program for students

The National PTA

1997-98 Year

The National PTA believes all children deserve a quality arts education, and encourages students to pursue artistic expression through participation in its annual arts program, Reflections. The Reflections Program offers students opportunities to create works of art for fun and recognition. Students in preschool through grade 12 are encouraged to create and submit works of art in four areas: literature, musical composition, photography, and the visual arts (which includes art forms such as drawing, painting, print making, and collage). In its more than 25-year history, Reflections has encouraged millions of students across the nation and in American schools overseas to create works of art.

Each year, Reflections challenges students to create art that supports a specific theme. Themes are selected from thousands of ideas submitted by students to the National PTA's Reflections Theme Search. Past Reflections themes have included "Dare to Discover . . . ," "If I Could Give the World A Gift . . . ," "Imagine That . . . ," and "Exploring New Beginnings. . . ."

Students participate in Reflections by submitting works to their local PTA or PTSA. Any PTA/PTSA in good standing can sponsor a Reflections Program. Rules and deadlines differ from PTA to PTA and from state to state. Contact your state PTA for more information and rules for sponsoring a Reflections Program in your area.

A great learning experience

Participating in Reflections is a great way for students to explore and learn about various art forms. It does not matter whether an entry created for Reflections has been done as a classroom assignment or done independently at home, artistic exploration and expression enhance and develop intellectual, social, and physical skills. Creating art is a valuable learning process.

When children express themselves through words, pictures, music, photography, and other art forms, they grow intellectually. As children experience the creative process, they learn to analyze their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They learn to look at things, people, and experiences in a fresh and exciting way, and become more interested in the ideas and works of others. Reflections helps parents encourage and recognize the continuous self-discovery process of their children.

The National PTA Reflections Program is designed to enhance rather than replace a quality arts education. It provides opportunities for students to express themselves and to receive positive recognition for their artistic efforts. Parents, teachers, and community members all play a critical role in fostering a positive learning environment for children. Supporting Reflections is one way adults can help create that environment.

Getting students involved

Young artists get involved in Reflections through their local PTA or PTSA. A student may submit an entry in any of the four arts areas. Only original works of art are accepted. Depending on state and local PTA guidelines, students may enter more than one work of art.

Art areas

  • Literature
  • Musical Composition
  • Photography
  • Visual Arts

Participation in Reflections is organized by student age and grade levels. Student works are critiqued against others in the same grade division. This allows recognition and judging of artworks by appropriate developmental age and skill levels.

Grade divisions

  • Primary Preschool-Grade 2
  • Intermediate Grades 3-5
  • Middle/Junior Grades 6-8
  • Senior Grades 9-12

The Reflections Program is structured for PTAs to recognize students at the local, council, district, state, and national levels. Entries are first judged at the local level and selected works are chosen to represent the PTA at each subsequent level, which may be a council, district, or state PTA, depending on each state's structure. Once entries reach the state level, the state PTA may select entries to submit to the National PTA. Awards of Excellence and Awards of Merit are recognized at the National PTA Annual Convention and receive exposure as a part of the Reflections traveling art exhibit.

Possible judging levels

  • Local
  • Council
  • District
  • State
  • National

National Recognition and Honors

Professionals working in the visual art, music, photography, and literature fields volunteer to judge student entries at the national level. Three Awards of Excellence and five Awards of Merit are selected in each grade division for each of the four arts areas. In addition, one Outstanding Interpretation work is chosen from among the Awards of Excellence in each arts area from among all grade divisions. The four students who receive the national Outstanding Interpretation award have demonstrated the most creative interpretations of the theme. These students receive a trip to the National PTA Convention along with one adult. At the convention, the students are recognized for their achievement and actively participate in a special awards ceremony.

Awards given by the National PTA vary each year. All national level participants receive a letter and certificate of participation from the National PTA. In addition, entrants may receive awards from the program's national sponsors. In past years, these have included cash awards, scholarships, books, encyclopedias, art supplies, computer software, and medallions.


All state PTAs are notified of national award recipients each spring in late April. The National PTA sends letters directly to students. Special awards from sponsors, such as art supplies, computer software, and encyclopedias, are sent directly to these students from the sponsors during the summer or early fall.

Reflections Traveling Exhibit

The National PTA sponsors a traveling exhibit, which showcases all national Award of Excellence and Award of Merit works from the preceding year's Reflections Program. State PTAs and public exhibition sites host the exhibit. Master tapes are made of selected music entries, literary entries are duplicated in booklets, and the visual art and photography works are matted and labeled for the exhibit.

Artwork Return

State PTAs determine the artwork return policy for their respective states. Visual artwork and photographs in the Reflections Traveling Exhibit are returned to the students the following summer.

General rules

Please remember these general rules:

  • Students may submit entries only through a PTA or PTSA.
  • All entries submitted must be an original work and must relate to the annual Reflections theme.
  • Each entry must be the work of only one student. Assistance from teachers, parents, or friends is not permitted except in special cases, (such as for the visually or physically challenged), and only with permission from the student's state PTA.
  • Participation in Reflections encourages creativity and exploration-students should do their best, but crooked lines, incorrect musical notes, or misspelled words do not disqualify anyone.

A word to parents

As with any student activity, parent involvement and support are very important. But parents must remember that student artists need to create their own works. Children must make their own decisions about what to create and what to enter in the Reflections Program. By creating their own literature, musical compositions, photography, and visual art, children not only learn about art, more importantly, they learn about themselves.

Supporting Reflections is one way that you can support the arts in your home, school, and community.

More Information on the Reflections Program, Arts Education and Advocacy

If you would like to know more about the arts, arts education, and arts advocacy, the National PTA website is a good source of information. The website address is, and the arts education information is located under Programs.

How Your PTA Unit Can Sponsor the Reflections Program

Reflections Program rules and deadlines for each state PTA are different. Contact your state PTA office for additional information.