PTA SPOTLIGHT 2016: An Amazing Day of Art and Celebration

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What an amazing day was had by all at this year’s SPOTLIGHT: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community held at Millikin University in Decatur, IL. This year, 298 participants viewed the galleries, participated in workshops, and celebrated our children, a 39% increase over last year’s attendance. While the weather outside was gloomy, smiles brightened the Kirkland Fine Arts Center and Millikin campus throughout the day.

Having one’s art hung in a professional gallery is the dream of any artist, and our PTA Reflections’ students are no different. This year, 158 Visual Arts pieces and 96 Photography pieces graced the walls of Kirkland Fine Art Center while 106 Literature, 57 Music Compositions, 54 Film Productions, and 46 Dance Choreography pieces were available for viewing. In total, 517 creations from our talented artists were available for public viewing.

Workshops Offered New Creative Opportunities

Two sessions of workshops were offered this year, and both were well attended and enjoyed despite the rainy walk to reach some of them. Created primarily by Milliken Art Education students, the workshops had children drumming, dancing, writing, drawing, sculpting, and more throughout the afternoon. This is the first year that early registration for some workshops was closed because the maximum capacity had been reached. The Illinois PTA Board of Directors’ Workshop “A Little of This, A Little of That…” had more than 30 children participate in the first session and 40 children in the second session.

Newly created art pieces were shared as families gathered in the galleries between and after workshops. Many praises and thanks were extended to Illinois PTA, Millikin faculty members, and Millikin University Art Education students for making these workshops available and enjoyable for the children. A mother attending with her children wrote, “A great day of celebrating creativity. Even though we were there because of competition, the day was filled with nurturing and inspiration for the students and their families. The volunteers who piloted the workshops did so with a sense of humor and gentle guidance. Kudos to the organizers for a job well done.”

Recognizing Student Success

Our Recognition Celebration was definitely the highlight of the day. With the glow of Miss Illinois’ crown helping light the stage, we were able to recognize and personally thank 80 students participating in the National PTA Reflections program in Illinois and the Illinois PTA scholarship program. A total of 39 participations, 22 honorable mentions, 3 special artists, and 13 advancers to National crossed the stage. We also were able to honor 3 of our 4 Illinois PTA Scholarship recipients. There was nothing but smiles as they waited backstage to hear their names called, and nothing but pride after leaving the stage to pose for group pictures with Matthew Rodriguez, Illinois PTA President.



Highlights from Spotlight

  • Gavin Jursa, age 3, racing out to the front of the stage and Master of Ceremonies Brian Minsker, Illinois PTA President-Elect, running to go bring him back and lead him across the stage.
  • Sara Dixon’s smile as she crossed the stage as an Advancer to National and then again as a $1,000 Millikin Talent Scholarship recipient.
  • When Miss Illinois visited the “A Little of This, A Little of That…” workshop, a child was heard saying, “They even have a princess!”
  • When asked to complete the survey to help us plan for next year, a mother, leading her two children with their creations from their workshops in hand said, “Why take the survey, you can’t make this any better. It is a great event already!”

An Event Like No Other

Until you have attended, SPOTLIGHT may seem like just another event, but it isn’t. It is special because of the children and families that attend. It has a home because of the commitment Millikin University has to celebrating children and the Arts. It is possible because the volunteers of Illinois PTA understand, support, and believe in what we have built together for our children. As Illinois PTA President Matthew John Rodriguez said during his welcome, there are many Reflections recognition events run by state PTAs, but none come close to what SPOTLIGHT provides for children and families. During the next couple days, we hope you reflect on this year’s SPOTLIGHT event and it brings a smile to your face. If you attended, we would love to hear from you, and please share some of your highlight moments from the day with us.

A photo album from SPOTLIGHT 2016 available at:

National PTA Announces 2015-2016 Reflections Results

During the past school year, through the National PTA level of the Reflections Program, nearly 300,000 students in over 8,000 schools across the country and in U.S. schools overseas contributed their original works in dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts to be considered for PTA’s highest honor in the arts.

For each arts category, one Outstanding Interpretation Award is chosen. Then, for each age group in each arts category, three Awards of Excellence and five Awards of Merit are selected as well. Illinois PTA is pleased to announce that seven Illinois students were recognized this year by National PTA:

Award of Excellence

  • Blake Attig: Special Artist Division, Music Composition, South Suburban Cook Region
  • Kylie Buedel: Intermediate Division, Dace Choreography, DuPage West Region
  • Ethan Dawes: Intermediate Division, Film Production, DuPage West Region

Award of Merit

  • Pete Benoit: Primary Division, Film Production, DuPage West Region
  • Emma Cho: Middle School Division, Music Composition, DuPage West Region
  • Morgan Murphy: Middle School Division, Film Production, Southern Region
  • Andrew Soler: Primary Division, Photography, Northern Region

Illinois PTA congratulates these students on their success. We look forward to seeing what all of our children do with next year’s PTA Reflections theme, “What Is Your Story?”

Spring Break Activities to Fight “Mom, I’m Bored” Syndrome

bored-16811_960_720It’s spring break time for many Illinois schools, and with it comes the “I’m bored” comments from your kids. While the old parental adage that boredom is a choice, not a condition probably won’t eliminate those comments, here are some sources of worksheets, activities, and ideas to provide some of those choices.

Take Your Family to School Week—February 15-19, 2016

HERO-TYFTSWPTAs across the country celebrate Founders’ Day, February 17th, in recognition of the legacy and work of Alice McLellan Birney, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and Selena Sloan Butler to improve the lives of children. As part of this celebration, National PTA has designated the week that includes Founders’ Day Take Your Family to School Week.

Family engagement is critical to student success, and PTA has developed a Take Your Family to School Week toolkit to help your PTA host an event that will bring families in to your school. The toolkit provides leader guides for a variety of different events, Including:

Also included in the toolkit are templates to create flyers and posters, a sample invitation letter to families, a sample donation request letter, a sample proclamation for your mayor or school board, a media advisory template, and sample social media messaging. The toolkit also provides sample thank you letters to volunteers and to sponsors/donors to use after your event. All of these items are available in both English and Spanish.

Don’t miss out on celebrating Founders’ Day and Take Your Family to School Week—check out the toolkit today. Family engagement is critical for your students, and these tools can be used any time during the school year to help connect your PTA, your families, and your school.

Building Relationships Between Families and Schools

Research has shown that engaged families play a crucial role in student success, and today’s schools are reaching out to families more than ever for that SchoolOfExcellence_Logosupport. Whether it is e-mail lists, robo-calls, Facebook, Twitter, websites, or the good old “backpack express,” schools are trying to provide families with more information about their child’s school and education. Using all these means is important, but they are all generally one-way communication methods, using information sharing as an attempt at transparency.

But what students, families, teachers, and administrators really need are relationships, and relationships are built on communication between people. As schools call on parents to be more involved in decisions about how schools are managed through building councils, hiring committees, curriculum committees, and more, they need to develop those relationships with families as more than simple information receivers. And those relationships are built on periodic conversations between schools and families that allow for give and take.

A recent article in the Phi Delta Kappan illustrates how a school can undermine building those relationships. In the past, parents were generally considered engaged if they came to Open House, attended the school play, and checked their child’s homework. Today, parents may struggle to support their child’s homework, as new learning standards such as those for math focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and a solid understanding of numeracy. This new approach is far different than the basic rote memorization of math facts that today’s parents were taught, and as a result even well-educated parents are struggling to support their child. Schools may have Family Math Nights to help parents, but often only one or two, generally in the evening, and not all parents can attend.

So what can parents and PTAs do to help build these crucial relationships? One key tool is the PTA School of Excellence program. Built on National PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, the program provides PTAs with a turnkey approach to engaging families, teachers, and administrators in building relationships for student success. A report on the first set of Schools of Excellence honorees showed significant increases in families reporting that their school and PTA empowered them to support their child, spoke up for every child, shared power in decision-making and school improvement, and collaborated with the community.

Your PTA has the opportunity to become a National PTA School of Excellence this year by following these simple steps:

  1. Enroll your PTA between now and October 1, 2015. Once you do so, you’ll receive the Getting Started Guide that describes the program components, including your first steps to gather feedback from families and set goals with your school partner.
  2. Survey your school community using the online tools provided and share the results with National PTA by submitting a Family-School Partnership Scan by November 1, 2015. You will choose a focus in one of three areas:
    • Improving family engagement in education
    • Ensuring students’ health and safety
    • Supporting arts in education
  3. Use the customized Roadmap to Excellence containing recommendations that correspond to your specific results and selected focus from the Family-School Partnership Plan to work towards your goal. Your Roadmap to Excellence will spell out exactly what you need to do to become a National PTA School of Excellence.
  4. Complete the National PTA School of Excellence application before June 1, 2016.
  5. Celebrate your excellence! All National PTA School of Excellence recipients receive a toolkit to support celebration activities.

You can find out more information from the National PTA School of Excellence Tell Me More Guide which provides some samples of the information you’ll receive throughout the process and gives more details on the individual steps.