NoVa’s U.S. Winners

NoVa Students Use Art To Explore What It Means To Be Heroic

2018-19 themeSeven Northern Virginia students are national winners in the 2018-19 National PTA Reflections arts contest, after winning first-place awards in every other tier of the multi-level competition.

Throughout Alexandria City, Arlington County, and Fairfax County, K-12 students choreographed dances; made films; wrote poems, stories, and essays; composed music; took photographs; and created paintings, sculptures and multimedia pieces, all based on a theme. At each level of the contest, the top winners advanced to the next level. Northern Virginia’s national winners first won the contests at their own schools, and then took top honors in the city or county contest, the Northern Virginia District contest, and the Virginia state contest.

This year’s contest theme, “Heroes Around Me,” left a lot of scope for personal expression.


Anna Chung – Literature

Anna Chung, a sophomore at Fairfax’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, was one of only seven students nationwide to win Reflections’ top honor, the Award for Outstanding Interpretation of Theme. Anna won the award in the Literature category for a poem, “The Helper,” about a girl whose hero is always there for her. “Her grandpa bought her a telescope and put it on the roof for squinting on muggy, firefly nights,” the poem begins. As the girl grows up, she makes mistakes and sometimes gets depressed. But her grandfather is always there to teach and encourage her, and to pull her “back into the light,” until she achieves her goal and flies into space as an astronaut. In her required Artist’s Statement, Anna explains that the story is fictitious, but that “there are special people who always drag me out of my failures and inspire me to fly.”

Link to Anna’s poem here.


Riley Zwiselsberger – Photography

Heroes All Around Me (Photo-PRI)

“Heroes All Around Me,”  by Riley Zwiselsberger, 1st grade, Charles Barrett (Primary Photography)

Several winners cited first-responders as their heroes. Alexandria first-grader Riley Zwiselsberger came up with one of the most pertinent interpretations of the theme in his Photography entry, which shows a ring of firefighters looking down at the unseen photographer in the center of the circle.

He explained in his Artist’s Statement that he asked the firefighters to stand in a circle and took the photo while lying on the ground looking up at them. His photo won an Award of Merit (equivalent to a third-place win) in the National contest’s Primary Division. Riley attends Charles Barrett Elementary School.


Cecilia Griffith – Literature

Cecilia Griffith - Firefighters Save the DayCherry Run Elementary School second-grader Cecilia Griffith also took first-responders as the topic of her Literature category entry, which won an Award of Merit as well.

The Fairfax student dedicated her poem, “Firefighters Save the Day,” to her father, who is a firefighter. It begins, “There’s a fire I am scared / but I calm down because I know they are there,” and goes on to talk about her trust in the courage and skills of her heroes.



Benjamin Breaux – Literature

One of the most articulate explorations of the subject came from Benjamin Breaux, a Fairfax County 18-year-old who won a National Award of Excellence (second place) in the Special Artists Division for Literature. He writes about heroes as the people around us who choose to act with kindness and forgiveness rather than hate, and who stand up for what is right. Benjamin, who has autism and communicates by pointing to letters on a letter board, wrote, “I witness my peers in the nonspeaking autistic community bravely – and without hesitation – continually battling against preconceived assumptions about our abilities, our allegiances, our potential, and our desires to be an integral part of society.”

Link to Benjamin’s entry here.


Mason Mirabile – Film Production

"Through Your Eyes" still shot

“Through Your Eyes” (still shot), a film by Mason Mirabile, 3rd grade, Discovery ES, Arlington

Another student whose work celebrates the heroism of ordinary people is Mason Mirabile, a third-grader at Discovery Elementary in Arlington. His film, “Through Your Eyes,” won an Award of Excellence.

Mason’s highly original four-minute movie was filmed using black and white, low camera angles, and intentionally blurry footage, as if seen through the eyes of Mason’s newborn baby brother. The film shows Mason and his parents playing with the baby and taking care of him, all from the infant’s perspective. “His family are heroes to him even if he doesn’t know it,” Mason explains in his Artist’s Statement. “We are his heroes because we change diapers, feed him, play with him, read to him and hold him…. One day he can watch it and see how much work he was, and how much we loved him.”

Watch Mason’s film here:


Music Composition is one of the most difficult categories for articulating an interpretation of the theme, especially if the music is instrumental. Two Northern Virginia students overcame that obstacle and won National Awards of Merit, one at the High School level and one in the Primary Division.


Jonathan Morgan Petrini – Music Composition

Jonathan Morgan Petrini, a junior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, composed a piece called “Kaleidoscope” for string quartet. “Bach and Beethoven created art that makes people feel and think, art that has inspired us for generations; to me, they are heroes,” he says in his Artist’s Statement. “Recently I had the opportunity to compose for professional musicians. To hear my work brought to life was inspiring; to a composer, musicians can be heroes.”

Listen to a string quartet performing Jonathan’s composition:


Madison McBeth – Music Composition

MaddieMadison McBeth, an Arlington second-grader, calls her piano composition, “Clouds of Heroes’ Faces,” and was inspired by the shapes of clouds. “I was thinking of clouds with faces of heroes,” she explains. “And the song feels like there are a bunch of brave heroes flying around.” Madison attends Arlington Montessori School.

Listen to Madison performing her composition here.


50 Years of Reflections

Entries at every level of the National PTA contest are evaluated by judges who are experts in the arts categories they’re judging: Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography, and Visual Arts. In each category, entries are separated into the grade-level and Special Artist divisions, and are judged on three criteria: Creativity, Technique, and Interpretation of the Contest Theme.

This is the fiftieth year of the popular National contest, which draws more than 300,000 entries from around the nation, from about 5,000 PTAs. National award winners will be honored June 22 at the National PTA Convention and Expo in Columbus, Ohio.

Next year’s theme: “Look Within.”

NoVa National Winners, jpg



ACPS Students Win National Acclaim!

The National PTA announced the results of the national level of the Reflections contest today, and two of the winners are ACPS students! Both students have won Awards of Merit, which is a 3rd Place national award.

Our two winners stand near both ends of the age spectrum; one is 1st grader, and the other is a high-school junior. Their categories: Photography and Music Composition.


A 1st Grader With a Unique Perspective

Heroes All Around Me (Photo-PRI)

“Heroes All Around Me,”  by Riley Zwiselsberger, 1st grade, Charles Barrett (Primary Photography)

Riley Zwiselsberger, a 1st grader at Charles Barrett, won in the Photography category (primary division) for a photo called “Heroes All Around Me.”

Many entrants submitted photographs of firefighters, but Riley came up with the unique concept: he lay on the ground, facing up, with a circle of firefighters standing around him, looking down at him and his camera!

He said he’d already known that firefighters save lives. But visiting the station and spending time with his heroes during the photo shoot made him realize that they do much more than that.

“Fire fighters are heroes because they save lives,” Riley wrote in his Artist’s Statement. “I realized … they are also heroes because they love to teach and help people too. They spent so much time with us and made me laugh too!”


A High School Composer’s Inspiration

Jonathan Morgan Petrini, a junior at T.C. Williams, is Alexandria’s other national winner, for his entry in the Music Composition category (high-school division). His classical piece, “Kaleidoscope,” was written for string quartet.

In his Artist’s Statement, Jonathan said that composers such as Bach and Beethoven are heroes because they created art that has inspired generations, art that makes people feel and think.

He also described what it was like to compose the piece and hear it performed while attending the High School Composition Intensive program at Boston Conservatory/Berklee. “To hear my work brought to life was inspiring; to a composer, musicians can be heroes.” He calls the piece “Kaleidoscope” because, “like art, a kaleidoscope reflects reality and transforms it. In this piece, the melody (beginning with the first violin) is reflected and transformed by the other instruments, rotating like shifting colors in a kaleidoscope.”

This is Jonathan’s second National win. He was honored with a National Award of Excellence in 2015-16, also for a Music Composition entry.

Watch a video of his piece being performed below, or listen to the audio version here: Kaleidoscope (audio only)


Winners Five Times Over

Because Reflections is a multi-level competition, both entrants had already won 1st Place awards earlier in the 2018-19 school year in the contests for their schools, the Alexandria PTA Council, The Northern Virginia PTA District, and the Virginia State PTA, before their entries were advanced to the National contest.

Each year, about 300,000 students nationwide create artwork in six different arts categories to compete in the national PTA Reflections program. This year, only 205 students were honored with National awards.

This was the program’s 50th anniversary year.


Virginia State Results Are In!

Heroes All Around Me (Photo-PRI)

“Heroes All Around Me,”  by Riley Zwiselsberger, 1st grade, Charles Barrett (Primary Photography). 1st Place Virginia State Winner for 2018-19!

Five Alexandria students have won awards in the Virginia state Reflections contest, with two of them advancing to the national level of competition!

Photography and Visual Arts’ winners entries are reproduced here. To see and hear the winning entries for Music Composition and Film Production, click on the link after each student’s name.

National results will be announced in a May 1 PTA Live broadcast via the National PTA Facebook page, with national awards being presented in June at the National PTA Convention & Expo in Columbus Ohio.


Alexandria’s Virginia State Award Winners

1st-Place State Winners

At the state and national level, 1st Place recognition is called the Award for Outstanding Interpretation of Theme. These students have earned top honors in the Virginia competition and are now competing in the National Reflections contest:


Jonathan Morgan Petrini, 11th grade, T.C. Williams, “Kaleidoscope” (Music Composition, High School) – click here to listen to the entry.

Riley Zwiselsberger, 1st grade, Charles Barrett, “Heroes All Around Me” (Photography, Primary)


Third-Place State Winners (Awards of Merit):

Unconditional Love (Photo-HS)

“Unconditional Love,” by Claudia Pareja, 12th grade, TC Williams (High School Photography) 3rd Place Virginia State Winner for 2018-19!

Eliza Gwin, 7th grade, George Washington, “We Are Heroes” (Film Production, Middle School) Click here to view the entry.


Claudia Pareja, 12th grade, T.C. Williams, “Unconditional Love” (Photography, High School)



State Honorable Mention:

Nathalie Garza, 2nd grade, James Polk, “My Parents Are My Heroes” (Visual Arts, Special Artist)

Congratulations to all of our state winners, and best of luck to Jonathan and Riley in the national level of competition!


1st Place Nathalie Garza, James Polk, My Parents Are My Heroes

“My Parents Are Heroes,” by Nathalie Garza, 2nd grade, James Polk (Visual Arts, Special Artists). Virginia State Honorable Mention for 2018-19!




Alexandria Students are NoVa Reflections Heroes!

Alex Winners Competing in Va Contest 2018-19The judges have finished evaluating the entries, and the Northern Virginia District Reflections results are out.

Alexandria students have made a heroic showing, with 21 Alexandria entries earning awards at the NoVa District level, and 6 students advancing to the state contest!

More Reflections Facts:

  • Out of 13 ACPS schools that took part in Alexandria Reflections, 9 have NoVa winners!
  • The Alexandria schools with the most NoVa winners are Jefferson-Houston and T.C. Williams. Both have 4 NoVa winners. And TCW is the only ACPS school with 2 students competing in the Virginia state contest.
  • Alexandria’s youngest NoVa winner is Charlotte Dines (Dance), a kindergartner at MacArthur. The oldest is Claudia Pareja (Photography), a senior at TC Williams.
  • Saha Irwin of Jefferson-Houston has won District awards in TWO categories, Dance and Visual Arts; her Visual Arts entry has been advanced to the state!
  • For the first time ever, Alexandria has a student competing at the state level in the Special Artists division. Nathalie Garza, a 1st grader at Polk, entered in the Visual Arts category.
  • Judges at the City and the District level included, among others, a retired high school band director, the head of a college music department, a former Warner Brothers movie studio executive, the leader of a dance program, and several published authors.
  • The Alexandria Reflections Awards Program & Art Show Opening is Friday, March 22, at the Durant Arts Center. The reception begins at 6:30; the program begins at 7:00. All students who competed at the city level will be honored, not just those who won awards. It’s free and open to the public. Stay tuned for details!





What Do You Stand For? PTA Student Essay Deadline Nears

by Claudia Martino, TC Williams (VisArts-HS)

By Claudia Martino, 9th grade, TC Williams

The Virginia PTA is committed to promoting a sense of citizenship and responsibility in our future leaders. To that end, Virginia K-12 students at schools with PTAs are eligible to enter the Citizenship Essay Contest. The deadline is quickly approaching: entries are due February 1.

This year’s theme: “What Do I Stand For?”

Winners will receive cash prizes and will be featured in PTA publications. Download the application packet below, and read the rules and submission instructions carefully. Best of luck to our Northern Virginia students!


2019 Citizenship Essay Application

Hammond Reflections Entrant Wins City’s Parks & Rec Photo Contest

Molly at Chinquapin Garden

“Molly at Chinquapin Garden,” by Daniel Dawit, Hammond MS, was honored by the Alexandria Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Activities

City Reflections entries are still being judged, but a 6th-grade Reflections entrant has just been announced as the winner of a different competition, a photography contest run by Alexandria’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Daniel Dawit, a student at Francis Hammond Middle School, took top honors in the Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities photography contest, being named Best Overall Winner as well as winning the Recreation category of the contest. His photograph, “Molly at Chinquapin Garden,” was not one of his entries in the city’s Reflections contest.

He wins $250 in gift certificates from Alexandria RPCA.

Congratulations to Daniel! And good luck to him and all of our entrants in the city Reflections contest!


Junior Reporter Contest

Do you have a son or daughter — or a talented Reflections entrant — who’d love to try writing and reporting the news? WTOP radio is holding a Junior Reporter Contest, with cash prizes for three winning students and their schools, as well as a chance to be featured on the air! The deadline is October 14, so check it out today! See details here.

WTOP Junior Reporter Contest Banner

Confused? We Can Help!

Sep. 29 PTA Training Includes Two Sessions

on Running a Reflections Program

The NoVa PTA District Fall Training Conference is Saturday, Sep. 29, and it will include two sessions on Reflections! The idea is to have a 101 overview, aimed especially at new chairs, and then a 102 class that goes into more detail for all school Reflections chairs.

The Early Registration Discount has been extended to 5 pm on Friday, Sep. 28, and gets you preregistered for only $15, which includes lunch. If you register at the door, the price will be higher. The training flyer is below. To register, click on the link, then click on “Register Early Online” near the bottom of the page, and follow instructions.

Click here for “clickable” flyer for the 2018 NOVA PTA Training Conference.

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