Students flourish in the arts thanks to recent district show

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The artistic talent of West Orange’s student body was on full display at the inaugural West Orange Council of PTAs Reflections Art Show held in the West Orange High School Library Media Center on Dec. 4.

Many of the approximately 80 submissions to the local chapter of the nationally sponsored PTA Reflections arts competition were made available for dozens of parents and school officials to enjoy at the event. in visual arts, photography, writing and choreography while staying true to the theme “Let Your Imagination Fly” —which also featured readings of some of the literary entries. Numerous award winners were recognized, including the 15 Award of Excellence honorees whose work will move on to the state contest in April.

Though only a select few graduated to the next phase of the competition, program coordinator Lee Sutton said all efforts were worthy of praise. And Sutton, the NJPTA Reflections chairwoman who made it a personal mission to bring the more than 40-year-old contest to her hometown of West Orange for the first time this year, said she is sure that several of the township’s submissions will succeed at the state level and go on to the national competition.

But Sutton’s main goal in organizing the art show was simply to pay tribute to the achievements of the town’s young creative minds.

“We wanted to give the students a night where they actually feel like artists,” Sutton told the West Orange Chronicle in a Dec. 3 phone interview. “We just wanted them to feel special and know that they are recognized for their efforts. Not every kid is going to be a straight-A student. Not every kid is an athlete. Some students are artists or they think differently or they’re outside the box. This is something for them. This is something to acknowledge them and say ‘You’re doing good work, keep it up.’”

To pull it off, a lot of hard work was required of Sutton and West Orange Council of PTAs President Tim Carter. Since the council only launched the program locally in September, Carter said the duo had to scramble to raise awareness for it among each of the district’s 11 school PTAs, no easy feat considering the beginning of the school year is their busiest organizational period. Carter said sometimes schools would not even know what they were talking about when they arrived to pick up submissions, and they pushed the deadline back a few times in order to garner more entries.

All that effort was worthwhile though, according to Carter, because it resulted in an opportunity for West Orange’s students to exercise their creativity. He also said it showed there is a need for the district to continue fostering its students’ artistic abilities because the talent is clearly there.

“Professional caliber is how they turned out,” Carter told the Chronicle in a Dec. 3 phone interview about the students’ pieces. “They were really, really amazing. And I just love the variety and the breadth. There were a lot of very, very different approaches and that’s a great thing because everybody’s different.”

One such talented artist was 16-year-old Olivianne Iriarte, who took home two Awards of Excellence for her photographs “All Aboard” and “Beyond Picasso.” The WOHS junior told the Chronicle it feels great to have won her first art competition, adding that she is just thankful to the West Orange Council of PTAs for providing her with the opportunity. She said she believes it is important to promote self-expression, and the program is a great way to interest students of all ages in finding their own ways of doing this.

As for her own work, Iriarte said it was an honor to see both her personal visions, as well as the craft of photography, recognized.

“Photography is very dear to me,” Iriarte said after the show. “It’s important to me to be able to express myself in that way. I love capturing moments through photography because I feel that the photograph tells a story.”

Olivianne Iriarte said her love of the art form started when her mother first gave her a camera when she was young. Years later, Angelique Iriarte said she is so proud to see her daughter win an award for her photography. And while she does not know whether her budding photographer will ever pursue the craft professionally, she said she does know that her daughter has the potential to be successful in whatever way she uses her talent.

“I just always saw that inner vision that she has,” Angelique Iriarte, who is herself an artist, said. “I just think it comes from within, from an artist’s perspective.”

The parents of 7-year-old Jeremy Cerruto are also proud of their student. Mount Pleasant Elementary School first-grader earned an Award of Excellence for his story “Castle Life,” which he read during the art show. And the prize just might be the first of many — Jeremy told the Chronicle that he finds writing fun, especially when he gets to type his work.

At the moment, however, Jeremy said he is not sure what he write about next. For “Castle Life,” which is about a boy rocket scientist who lives in a castle, he followed the old adage about writing what you know, or in his case, what you dream.

“I wanted a castle, and when I grow up I want to be a rocket scientist, too,” Jeremy, whose mother is novelist Jennifer Walkup, said prior to the show.

Jeremy, Olivianne Iriarte and the show’s other artists impressed Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky, who called their work “phenomenal” examples of the talent that can be found in the local school system. Rutzky lauded the West Orange Council of PTAs for hosting the event and district teachers for encouraging their students to participate. The fact that such a show could have been held at all speaks to the effectiveness of the arts department in general, Rutzky said.

“It talks about the importance of us recognizing the fine arts and educating the whole child,” Rutzky told the Chronicle after the show had ended. “To get the excitement and involvement in a program like this speaks to how people in the community and the school district feel about the fine arts.”

At a time when school districts across the country are cutting their arts programs, Sutton and Carter said they plan to continue stoking West Orange’s enthusiasm for the arts. Their goal is to make the Reflections Art Show even bigger next year, which they said is likely now that the community is familiar with the competition and can encourage children to participate.

And they do hope they participate because, as Sutton pointed out, the arts can do a lot for a child.

“Arts are a way of finding who you are, of developing a sense of self,” Sutton told the Chronicle. “It’s a great way to grow and
understand the world around you.”

Fifteen West Orange students are Award of Excellence winners and will move on to participate at the state level.

In the Primary Division, winners are Pleasantdale’s Reagan Edwards for “Amazing ABC” in dance choreography and Liam Berzolla for “Imagination Snail” in visual arts; Saint Cloud’s Lucas Tulloch for “Lighthouse and Boat” in visual arts; and Mount Pleasant’s Jeremy Cerruto for “Castle Life” in literature.

In the Intermediate Division, Redwood’s Kayleigh Jennifer Hulings for “Fun With Paint” in visual arts; Saint Cloud’s Ari Montaque for “Birds in the Blue” in photography; and Mount Pleasant’s Dasha Rachioppi for “Enjoy the Panda Life” in visual arts, Janeilya Gopaulsingh for “Let Your Imagination Fly” in visual arts and Sophia Ann Hynes for “Flowers in the Meadow” in visual arts.

In the Middle School Division, Edison’s Olivia Telemaque for “Blue Foot on Rocks” in visual arts; and Roosevelt’s Imani Miller for “The Storm and the Wrecked Mind” in literature and Ruth Donagher for “Fantasy Inspired” in visual arts.

In the High School Division, Columbia’s Aira Dolfo for “Share a Coke in the Sky” in visual arts; Kerby Alphonse for “Ready for Takeoff” and “Freedom,” both in photography; and Olivianne Iriarte for “All Aboard” and “Beyond Picasso,” both in photography.

Additionally, the following students were Award of Merit winners: Joel Goldberg, Leonardo McCormick, Sadie Zwerman, Chelsea P. Adams, Calixta Cempron, Mesgana Gebreyesus, Amy Abdelaziz, Jacob Castillo, Zoe Lynne Napuli, Catherine Topps, Talia Fellus, Francesca Schuler, Skylar Lassiter, Heywete Casimiro, Tyler McInteer-Sullivan, Lynn Vanessa Isaac, Addison Berzolla, Sophia Lewis, Ella Silivanch, Matthew E. Eng, Ilana Shoshana, Samantha Pellegrini, Justin Vera, Belen Osborne, Arielle N. Latchman, Elizabeth Marzere, Sara Caymitte, Kerby Alphonse and Olivianne Iriarte.

Also, receiving honorable mention were: Sofia Perez, Nava Brickman, Adrianna Kotchkoski, Stephen A. Niamke, Riley Anne Margaret Smith, Eli Brickman, Victoria Wolker-Kraljk, Rishi Patel, Julia Hynes, Svara Khurana Bhatnagar, Kevin Delos Santos, Caroline Julia Campanella, Ed Cesar Gubalane, Jasmine Kam, Jack Mault, Robert Mekhi, Darlene Folas, Anthony Chapman, Azaria Asfaw, Fernando Martinez, Sandra Guerrero, Richard Monocho, Dylan Wimberly, Rose Murphy-Braunstein, Jason Scott Scavalla Jr., Jerrick Tigre and Andrew Mayancela.