The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

“I am hopeful because . . .”

Three MV students advance to the Council level of the PTSA Reflections program
MV students who submitted to PTSA Reflections had the opportunity to celebrate and receive certificates from MV Principal Ben Clausnitzer and Reflections co-chairs Cathy Chen and John Ling. Photo courtesy of John Ling | Used with permission

After the National Parent Teacher Association Reflections Art Program asked students to address the theme, “I am hopeful because…” sophomore Monisha Preetham chose to submit a photograph of two squirrels in her backyard, titled “Finding Hope in Nature.” In February 2024, she learned that her photo had advanced beyond MVHS and FUHSD to be considered by Sixth District PTSA, which serves the counties of Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey.

Preetham’s submission, titled “Finding Hope in Nature”, advanced to the District level of PTSA Reflections. Photo by Monisha Preetham | Used with permission

“After winning, I feel differently about my pictures because I won a couple awards,” Preetham said. “Before, I didn’t think they were good. But now I think they’re okay.”

Since the National PTA founded the Reflections Program in 1969, it has continued to inspire and encourage students from K-12 nationwide, including at the other FUHSD schools and Kennedy Middle School. Students are permitted to submit works in any of six categories: Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. 

MVPTSA selects the top entries from MVHS in each category to advance to the Council, a local group of PTSA members who judge submissions and choose which will move forward. The group serves school districts within Cupertino, Fremont and Sunnyvale. From there, the top awards advance to Sixth District. Besides Preetham, junior Elisabeth Lin and senior Aahana Yadav also received recognition at the Council level for entries in Visual Art and Literature respectively. 

MVPTSA Reflections Co-Chair Cathy Chen has worked with Reflections for nearly a decade. Throughout that time, she’s learned that selection criteria are heavily weighted toward how well an artistic work reflects that year’s theme. Chen particularly enjoys the theme “I am hopeful because…” as it allows students to express individual stories and is easy for most people to interpret. 

“Sometimes, having a theme makes Reflections a bit difficult for kids who might say, ‘I don’t really resonate with this particular topic, so it’s hard for me to create something,’ and that’s OK,” Chen said. “I really liked this year’s theme because it’s more on the positive side and says, ‘Our voices matter.’ It’s open and positive.”

For Preetham, choosing which of her photos best fit the theme was a difficult choice. She recalls deliberating between two landscape photos and the squirrel photo, which she took in her backyard while quarantining at home for COVID. Nature inspires Preetham to feel more hopeful, which she wanted to convey for this year’s contest.

That kind of interpretation is precisely what MVPTSA Reflections Co-Chair John Ling was hoping to see when he first learned the 2023-24 theme. Contemplating the crises the world has faced over the past years, he sees “I am hopeful because…” as a breath of fresh air.

“I felt the theme was very fitting because it lets the kids express how they feel about hope in this world, and to show the positivity out of what’s happened from their last few years of their lives,” Ling said.

Reflections participants received personalized medals presented by the co-chairs. Photo courtesy of John Ling | Used with permission

However, a major obstacle Reflections faces at MVHS is lack of participation. Chen and Ling acknowledge that MVHS produces considerably fewer submissions than other schools in the area. For instance, this year students from Lynbrook High School submitted 38 works, a stark contrast to MVHS, which only received eight. 

The majority of Chen’s experience with Reflections comes from Kennedy Middle School, where the greater participation made her transition to MVHS this year incredibly jarring. Chen and Ling aren’t sure what exactly causes submission rates to be so low at MVHS. 

“The Reflections Program isn’t new, but somehow when kids get to the high school level, it just doesn’t seem to click as much,” Ling said. “I understand these kids are all busy with their high school careers. But this is actually something that’s very meaningful. And it could look good on your college application or resume, in a way, that you actually do something else that’s artistic.”

One factor they’ve considered is COVID-19 — Chen, Ling and Preetham all recall that more people participated in Reflections prior to the pandemic. Since returning to school, most MVHS students and staff may be no longer aware of the contest and what it entails.

Preetham believes another factor is the lack of promotion for Reflections. Despite the resources MVPTSA has available online, if it weren’t for the one email through which Preetham learned about Reflections, she would never have known the contest existed. Still, Chen and Ling say MVPTSA makes considerable efforts to advertise around campus, namely by putting up flyers near the arts buildings. 

“The lack of participation really surprised us because we really did all we could do,” Chen said. “We promoted the contest in our newsletter, we have asked the principal to push out, ‘Hey, the deadline is coming.’ And we have a webpage set up with posters.”

Another factor Chen and Ling, whose wife works with Reflections on the elementary school level, have considered is that as kids settle into high school, they have less time to devote to new experiences and opportunities. They also receive less influence from their parents, which may be key to the different submission rates from younger kids and teens. 

Reflections participants received personalized certificates for their hard work. Photo courtesy of John Ling | Used with permission

According to Chen and Ling, the high-achieving culture and MVHS and students’ own high standards for themselves may limit them from participating. Chen reflects on other art competitions’ emphasis on technique and artistic ability, which may subsequently lead high schoolers to believe their works aren’t advanced enough for awards. As a result, this may discourage them from participating. 

However, Reflections operates on a different philosophy. Judges value artistic technique, but place just as much emphasis — if not more — on how uniquely and authentically students can express themselves.

“The whole point of Reflections is that you just need to resonate with the theme,” Chen said. “The way they score you is that you need to have a lot of feelings about that particular topic in order to write something that they go ‘Oh, yeah, this totally like makes me feel very hopeful.’ That’s really cool compared to other art contests.”

About the Contributors
Suhana Mahabal
Suhana Mahabal, Staff Writer
Suhana is currently a sophomore and a staff writer for El Estoque. In her free time, she loves to read, rewatch Shameless and listen to Taylor Swift.
Alyssa Yang
Alyssa Yang, News Editor
Alyssa is currently a junior and a News Editor for El Estoque. When she isn't in a dance studio (which isn't often) she loves traveling, assembling modeling kits and playing too many crosswords.
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