Brookshire Elementary artists use artwork to inspire

Brookshire artists Amanda Matherne, left, Hope Hallett, middle, and Lucie Duggan.

Brookshire artists Amanda Matherne, left, Hope Hallett, middle, and Lucie Duggan.

Brittni Larson

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Swirls of red, yellow, blue and green create an abstract scene, a punchy art piece to the viewer, but to the artist it’s a “Roller Coaster Heaven.” A painting of neon pumpkins shining on the background of a clear, blue sky represent the artist’s love of Thanksgiving, fall and family. In a winning photograph, golden sunlight streaks through a forest, lighting each leaf it touches.

The pieces of art are all winners from Brookshire Elementary in Winter Park. The students competed in the school’s first time participating in the National Parent Teacher Association Reflections Program, inspired by the words: “Believe, Dream, Inspire.”

Lucie Duggan, a fourth grader who photographed the forest on a trip to Georgia, said the Reflections program had her thinking about what makes her happy, and for her, it’s the outdoors.

“The woods inspire me and the mountains and it’s a very nice place there, and it makes me believe to do great things,” said Lucie. “It’s just so calm and peaceful.”

The Reflections program is the PTA’s way of reaching into their school’s communities through art. Their goal is to encourage and bring the opportunity of doing art into the homes of students. Students can compete in many categories including visual arts, filmmaking and dance choreography. Of Brookshire’s 31 entries, nine went to the county level of competition in the program and one went to State.

Brookshire’s PTA Reflections organizer Ginger Duggan worked to get art supplies donated by Percy Maynard of Arts Systems of Florida, so students had a lending library of everything they needed to create. While art is a part of life in Duggan’s home – she is an art curator – she knew not every child has a home where art is something that’s spoken about or where supplies are available.

For more information about the Reflections Program, and to learn how to bring it to your school, parents can check out http://pta.org/programs/ArtsinEducation.cfm?navItemNumber=510.

“Art is one that kind of gets pushed to the side a lot of times, just for funding reasons, so anytime there’s a chance for kids who are artistic to shine and to feel special about what they do, I think that’s important,” Duggan said. “I was excited to try to give other kids the opportunity to have that same access to the art world and see how they can express themselves when they’re not really given a ton of opportunity to do it at home or at school.”

And research shows that art is an important part of learning. When children participate in the arts it helps to improve their reading, language, math and problem solving skills. It also helps with social skills, a student’s motivation to learn and gives children a more positive feeling about school. In a national study by researchers at the University of California using federal data from more than 25,000 middle and high school students, they found that students with a high level of arts involvement did better on standardized achievement tests than those with low art involvement.

“I think the arts are very important for them to express the individuality and to be able to think on their own, to problem solve,” said Brookshire art teacher Meg Baldwin.

In a time when students’ schedules are so rigid, when many of their answers are just right or wrong, art pushes them to think in a different way. They learn that there’s not always a right answer in creating art, that they have to make decisions and strike out on their own, and it’s not always easy for them, Baldwin said.

“Anytime they have a chance to be a little bit loose, and think with the other side of their brain and solve problems creatively I think it’s helpful,” Duggan said.

But once they start creating, they never want to stop. For many students it’s a great way to relax.

“It kind of lets your mind wander in an organized way,” Baldwin said.

That’s what some of Brookshire’s artist winners said, too. Second grader Hope Hallett said she loves just drawing whatever she wants and not having to worry about what happens next – she just lets her colored pencil or paint get to work.

“It shows who you are and makes you happy,” said fourth grader Amanda Matherne, who won a Reflections award for her pumpkin painting.

“You just get to be yourself,” Lucie said.