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Exemplary Student Art and Writing Honored at U.S. Department of Education

Scholastic, Association of Art Museum Directors, Encourage Students’ Education Through the Arts

The braces aren’t immediately detectable, tucked inside the pant legs of their owner, 17-year-old Tim Farmer. They are a vital part of Tim’s life, however, and are the focus of his photograph and essay on display at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Tim travelled recently from Bentonville, Arkansas, to attend a joint celebration at ED of exceptional student art and writing. Some of it, like Tim’s, came to ED from 11 museum members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which views art education and the promotion of student art as central to its and its members’ mission; others won top honors in the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition. On hand for the art exhibit opening were student artists and writers from across the country, their families, arts educators and leaders, congressional staff, and ED staff.

Tim has worn braces since the fourth grade, when cancer led to damaged nerves in his legs. Today, he walks with a limp. When his 10th-grade English teacher (who has expertise in integrating arts into core classroom subjects) asked students to write about something affecting their everyday lives, Tim created “What a Day in My Shoes.”

“If you were to walk a day in my braces you will find out that not every day is comfortable. . . . Sometimes people look at you a little funny or ask you what happened. . . . It affects how you do certain activities like soccer and basketball. . . . I want you to remember that just because you do something a different way . . . doesn’t make it bad or weird but makes you more unique. What a day in my shoes.”

Student standing by photos and text

Tim Farmer with his photograph of his leg braces and accompanying essay

Tim shot the photograph of his braces after his teacher took the class to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville to view its portraits collection through the double lens of portraiture and empathy. The museum then submitted Tim’s work for national viewing. The museum is among 241 domestic members of the AAMD, which annually serves about 40,000 schools. (An additional 20 AAMD members are in Canada and Mexico.) As part of its education mission, the organization and the National Art Education Association recently completed a large-scale study investigating the impact of museum visits on students in grades 4–6. At the opening, researchers for the study held a panel discussion to share the results with the audience.

The AAMD exhibit also includes two creations by youths incarcerated in a California juvenile detention center served by the San Diego Museum of Art. Its museum educator, Rogelio Casas, believes that if these teens “have turned off to school and things seem hopeless, creating art is a great stimulus for positive change.”

Chinese brush painting of bamboo

Chinese brush painting on hosho paper by a youth incarcerated in a California juvenile detention facility

The other works in the show were done as a result of programs at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Frist Art Museum, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Princeton University Art Museum, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, RISD Museum, Seattle Art Museum and Shelburne Museum.

The second exhibit features 65 works of 2- and 3-D art that received awards in Scholastic’s 2018 competition and scholarship program, which drew about 350,000 entries. This year marks the 96th anniversary of the competition. Previous high school honorees include Robert Redford, John Updike, Robert McCloskey, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Alan Arkin, Joyce Carol Oates, Marc Brown, Stephen King, Ken Burns, Zac Posen and Lena Dunham.

Like many Scholastic award recipients, 16-year-old Alex Bullock from Washington, D.C., says she has loved to draw and paint “my entire life” (since preschool), and that her interests and skills have been honed by the guidance and encouragement of art teachers. They were “always so positive,” and “gave me great feedback,” Alex said, conduct that paved the way for her creation of “Finding Where the Road Takes Me.”

Student standing next to a portrait

Alex Bullock with her portrait “Finding Where the Road Takes Me”

Alex’s portrait began as a black-and-white sketch of a live model, whose head she then superimposed on a map of the American West and Midwest. She used an orange paint marker to delineate roads, illuminate contours of the model’s face, and form interconnecting puzzle pieces. The portrait’s title provides clues to understanding it. But, Alex explained, “[the portrait] is open to interpretation. I like that people can view it with their own eyes.”

Another mixed media creation, by 14-year-old Zhou Zhang, shows a dog and a homeless man seated together on a bench in a snow storm. The man is underdressed for the weather as he has removed his coat to wrap around the dog. Behind the bench are a street sign reading “Wall Street” and a running bull. Zhou’s artwork shows, in the context of great wealth represented by Wall Street, the willingness of some people with few material possessions to share what they have with others, the New Jersey youth explained.

Student standing by artwork

Zhou Zang with his award-winning mixed media artwork “Wall Street”

Scholastic honors student creativity in 29 categories, including ceramics and glass, editorial cartoon, fashion, film and animation, jewelry, journalism, novel writing, painting, personal essay and memoir, poetry, science fiction and fantasy, sculpture, short story and video game design.

An essay, “Last Words,” by 17-year-old Laila Shadid from Massachusetts, helped her piece together a life upended by the death of her journalist father in the Middle East. She was 10 years old at the time. Laila explains what drew her father away from the family he loved to the risks of Iraq and Syria — how his profession merged sacrifices and joy. She wrote, too, about her goal of carrying on his legacy by becoming a journalist, while asking herself, “But how could I be attracted to the art that killed my father?” (A collection of other award-winning writing from the 2018 Scholastic competition is available here.)

Student holding a book

Laila Shadid with the anthology of award-winning writing from the 2018 Scholastic competition

The ED program included a workshop presented by Matt Wuerker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American political cartoonist and creator of editorial cartoons for Politico. Participating students and educators learned the history of cartooning, as well as how to make caricatures of Obama (draw big ears) and Trump (draw big hair). Those attending the opening program also heard remarks from Lisa Ramirez, deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs in ED’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers; and Madeleine Grynsztejn, AAMD president and Pritzker director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Annie Castillo read from her winning poetry as a 2017 national student poet.

The program ended with a ribbon cutting to mark the official opening of the exhibit. This is the 15th year of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program, which its director, Jackye Zimmermann, launched in 2004. This is the last of 100 exhibits that she has overseen as she is retiring at the end of 2018. The program will continue under the direction of Juliette Rizzo.

Jackye Zimmermann in front of artwork

Jackye Zimmermann, founder and director of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program, is retiring at the end of 2018.

To view all of the photos from the opening, click here.

Nancy Paulu is a writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

All photos are by ED photographer Paul Wood.

ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers with an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors it as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Juliette Rizzo at [email protected] or visit

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