Celebrating Student Artistry From Fairfax County Public Schools: “The World Through My Eyes”

On July 18, the Department hosted Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to celebrate the opening of “The World Through My Eyes,” a collection of student achievement in the visual arts. Ninety FCPS students grades one through 12 at 28 schools contributed to the exhibit; the diversity of their chosen mediums—from photography to painting, illustration, printmaking, mixed media, and film—exemplifies the myriad perspectives and concerns of today’s youths.

Among the exhibit’s many outstanding pieces is “Sisters,” a reimagining of Roselle Hellenberg Osk’s famous 20th-century etching of the same name. Jamie Lambkin and Tiana Espinoza recreated the etching’s mien through photography; flanking their photos are two short, inner-monologue prose pieces by Shiva Zarean and Maxmine Ayompe-Mody, both Oakton High School theater students. Espinoza said her aim was to bring Osk’s themes of racial and cultural diversity into the 21st century along with the notion of religious diversity into the work. “Sisters” stands as a testament to the kind of creativity and artistic capacity that Fairfax County seeks to cultivate in its students.

The opening was not content to honor merely the visual arts, however—it showcased the county’s talented and multifarious performing artists as well. Young musicians shared the stage with vocalists, dancers, and even aspiring directors; interspersed between their outstanding performances were cogent and inspiring remarks by students, county officials, and Department staff. In a particularly powerful moment, FCPS School Board member Karen Corbett Sanders highlighted the fundamental importance of arts education by invoking the father of our country:“George Washington believed that the arts should be in the foundation of an enlightened nation. In 1781, he wrote to a friend: ‘The arts and sciences are essential to the prosperity of the state, and to the ornament and happiness of human life.’”

Epitomizing this sense of joie de vivre was the Lake Braddock Orchestra, led by Troops to Teachers educator Clayton Allen. The concert program juxtaposed Scandinavian romanticism with the English musical avant-garde of the early 20th century—the sonorous, arcing melodies of Sibelius took on a new, profound beauty in the context of Holst and Warlock’s robust harmonies. Many in attendance seemed especially impressed by the students’ rendition of Grieg’s seminal Holberg Suite, which delineates (and perhaps rejuvenates) the principal stylistic and compositional forms of the 18th century. The maturity and composure of these young performers were impressive indeed.

First chair cellist Rebecca Kelly performs during Lake Braddock’s orchestral program. Kelly noted that the responsibilities bestowed upon her by the program have motivated her to work harder.

Ally Johnson, student president of the Lake Braddock Orchestra, noted that her time in Fairfax programs illustrates “the extreme importance of arts education . . . [in that it] engenders an otherwise unattainable sense of community between musicians, as well as between musicians and the school community at large.” What explains Lake Braddock’s success? “We owe a lot to our awesome directors,” noted Joshua Cheng. Many musicians also cited their experience in Fourth-Grade Strings as an essential, even transcendental aspect of their education.

A similar example of artistic excellence featured at the opening was “Buzzcut Season,” a short film by four female students from Rachel Carson Middle School; the film illustrates the cathartic power of friendship and relays a significant message concerning the negative impact of bullying in schools.

Students engage in daring acrobatics while performing “Holding out for a Hero” from the film Footloose. This number featured performers from Annandale, Fairfax, Hayfield, Lake Braddock, South County, and West Springfield High Schools.

Other highlights included Sophia Welch’s rendition of “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked; a performance of Arcangelo Corelli’s Suite for Strings by the Spring Hill Elementary School Chamber Orchestra; “Art Makes a Difference,” an ardent, heartfelt speech by Deer Park Elementary sixth-grader Purnima Vasistha; and “I am a Photographer,” a presentation depicting recent graduate Matthew Cohen’s maturation as both artiste and entrepreneur.  The program concluded with a climactic song-and-dance performance of “Holding Out For a Hero” by a consortium of theater and drama students from six Fairfax high schools. The dramatic acrobatic maneuvers of this riveting number left many in the audience especially awestruck.

By the event’s conclusion, the astounding capabilities of today’s young artists were manifest; also evident were the critical role of schools in their successes, as well as the vital importance of artistic expression at all levels of the educational experience.

Jason Sandoval, a sixth-grader at Groveton Elementary School, poses with his “Micrography Self-Portrait.” From the Greek for “small writing” (Μικρογραφία), Micrography is the practice of using minute letters to form representational or abstract designs. Jason used ink to create it.

Watch the opening in full here on the Department’s Facebook page. The exhibit will remain at ED through Aug. 24.


Andrew Smith is an intern from Middlebury College in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo at the top: Everyone’s all smiles at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that culminated the opening of the Fairfax County Public Schools art exhibit. 

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Paul Wood.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit

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