By B.C. Manion
Libbi Ponce can’t recall a time in her life when she wasn’t expressing herself artistically.
She said her parents said she was still a baby when she began making art.
“My parents told me I would draw on walls,” the 13-year-old Rushe Middle School student said.
Over the years she has continued to develop her skills and recently, she took top honors at the district level in the National PTA’s 2010-11 Reflections Program.
The contest, launched by the National PTA in 1969, seeks to encourage students to pursue artistic expression.
Jacob VanDeilen, another Rushe student, placed among the top three in Pasco and is competing at the state level. His entry is a video he produced for the filmmaking category.
The competition has at least three levels in each state, including local, state and national.
In some cases, there are regional competitions, too.
The winners are chosen from more than 530,000 submissions from across the nation. The National PTA recognizes a national winner in each of these six categories: Dance choreography, film production, literature, musical composition, photography and the visual arts.
The association also recognizes 72 students with Awards of Excellence and 120 students with Awards of Merit across four grade divisions — primary, intermediate, middle and senior in each arts category.
Statewide winners in Florida will be announced on March 31. National winners are expected to be announced at the end of May.
The six national winners will be honored at the 115th annual National PTA Convention and Exhibition in June in Orlando.
Ponce said she drew her inspiration from the competition’s theme, “Together, we can.”
“I started thinking, “What ways is something symbolized by togetherness?” said the eighth-grader, whose painting portrays four arms linked together. Each arm represents a different race and a different theme.
VanDeilen’s project was inspired by the props he had on hand: some camping equipment in the family’s garage.
The 12-year-old tapped two of his friends — Miguel Castro and Nic Calvo — to star in his video, which he dubbed, “The Lost Campers.” They used a nearby field as the videotape’s location.
He describes the process of creating the video in a matter-of-fact manner: “We took the camping equipment out into the field and we sort of came up with the script there, and then I typed it up and we filmed it the next day.”
It wasn’t the sixth-grader’s first video.
“I sort of taught myself. I’ve watched videos on YouTube and I’ve done some by myself in my room. I’d get my friends together sometimes and we’d all go out and do videos.”
VanDeilen said a career in filmmaking is one possibility, or perhaps one that involves reptiles. At this point, he’s not quite sure what career path he’ll take.
Kye Maury, chairwoman of the Reflections contest at Rushe Middle, said she’s proud of how well the students did.
“I think it’s such an honor. We had wonderful entries at the school level. We were very proud of their work when it went on to district. To have them come out of district, being honored again, I just think is amazing,” Maury said.
Some students may find entering contests to be a bit daunting, Ponce said.
“People are intimidated by the thought of entering a contest and just knowing that you might not turn out on top. It’s kind of scary,” the teenager said.
But Ponce said Laure Gilliam, the school’s gifted language arts teachers, encouraged students to give Reflections a try.
“She really did persuade us to enter,” Ponce said. “We give a very big “thank you” to her. She encouraged us all.”
VanDeilen credited his parents for encouraging him to give it a shot. They told him: “You’ve got nothing to lose if you enter.”
Ponce said she wants to continue honing her artistic skills. She doesn’t expect art to be a full-time pursuit, but she hopes to combine it with her other interests.
Ponce aspires to become a biomedical engineer and has an interest in making artificial lungs.
“What I really want to do is execute my love for the arts and execute my love for the sciences,” Ponce said. She wants “to give back to people and to help them. I just think helping people is the best thing ever.”
Serving others, she said, provides a sense of fulfillment.
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