- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2017

From papier-mache to print to pottery, students from Fairfax County Public Schools are the latest to feature their artwork in the halls of the Department of Education. About 90 pieces from 28 schools are displayed in a two- to three-month exhibit.

The showcase opened Tuesday with welcoming remarks from Monique Chism, the deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The arts are very near and dear to my heart,” Ms. Chism said. “I intimately know the power firsthand that arts have to transform opportunities and the lives of students and also adults.”

The exhibit’s theme, “The World Through My Eyes,” challenged students to create work that visually communicates their view of the world. The exhibit features art from students from K-12.

But the exhibit opening was not strictly limited to visual art. Just as diverse as the artwork were performances throughout the opening ceremony that included a middle schooler’s belting out “Defying Gravity,” the showstopper from the Broadway musical “Wicked”; a short concert by the Lake Braddock Secondary School and Spring Hill Elementary School orchestras; and a scene from the 1980s musical flick “Footloose.”

Teachers, students and school board members also offered observations about the importance of arts education.

“We know from long-term experience that no one can claim to be truly educated [who] lacks the basic knowledge and skills in the arts,” said Suzanne Parrish, a visual arts teacher at Hybla Valley Elementary School.

The Education Department has featured students’ work in its Student Art Exhibit Program since 2004.

For Jacquelyn Zimmermann, director of the editorial policy for the program, the exhibit provides a chance for department employees to see the fruits of their labor.

“Most of us don’t go visit schools every day,” Ms. Zimmermann said. “This is our connection to our mission. This really tells us that great things are happening in the classroom.”

She cited a photography display created by a senior from Oakton High School as an example of the critical thinking students used for the chosen projects within the exhibit.

“The Sisters” by Tiana Espinoza features two women, one African-American and one Middle Eastern, in front of an American flag and a black background.

The photograph was inspired by an 1869 painting of the same name in the National Gallery of Art as part of an assignment from Oakton High School photography teacher Susan Silva and theater director Vanessa Gelinas.

Shiva Zarean, the photo’s Iranian-American model and a rising senior at Oakton High, said the photograph personally represents the struggles and triumphs of immigrants in America — particularly the experiences she’s learned from the stories of her mother, who grew up in Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Both models provided written word articles explaining the thoughts of the women they represent in the photograph.

“I really like to speak out about how important it is for people to come to a safe place,” Shiva said. “If I’m ever given a chance to speak out about that, I definitely will.”

The Student Art Exhibit Program will be open through Aug. 31.

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