Student Artists and Writers Spark a Celebration of Creativity; 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Winners Exhibits Open at ED

On Sept. 15, 2017, for the 14th year, the U.S. Department of Education opened the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards exhibit of works by students from across the country, with a special exhibit this year of winners from Harris County (Houston), Texas. Presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and founded in 1923, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is the longest-running and most prestigious award program for teenagers in the U.S. This year, 330,000 pieces of art and writing were submitted, and only 2,700 students were selected as national winners. Of those national winners, the Department has the honor of exhibiting 66 for the entire year, along with an additional 30 artists from Harris County, Texas, through Oct. 31, 2017.

A standing-room-only audience of 230 students, family members, educators, arts leaders, and ED staff joined in the celebration. Featured ED speaker Jason Botel, acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, summed up the value of arts education from his perspective: “Through these exhibits at the Department of Education, and the opportunities your schools provide, we can gain a better understanding of each other.”  Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance, pointed out that many past winners are contributing immensely through their talents in other fields because of their success in the Scholastic competition: “If you want to be a human rights activist or an educator or an entrepreneur,” she said, “we talk to lots of people in those fields who also point to this experience of winning a Scholastic Award as having been seminal and essential to them.” 2016 National Student Poet Joey Reisberg, now a senior at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, Maryland, recited two of his poems, giving us perhaps a reason for the arts: “So much in this life is so unnoticeable— ” (from Lamedvovniks, The Thirty-Sixers).

2017 Scholastic winners in art and writing, with, in front row (l to r), Virginia McEnerney, Joey Reisberg, and Jason Botel.

Following the ceremony, the Herb Block Foundation, which awards Scholastic winners for their editorial cartoons, held a workshop for the students.

The student artists and writers made clear that their educators were instrumental in helping to define themselves as artists. Mt. Vernon (Virginia) High School’s principal Dr. Anthony Terrell and art teacher Sally Gilliam, along with 25 current students, came to celebrate award recipient Jaron Owens. Gilliam shared that, when the award announcement was made, “[Jaron] jumped out of his chair and told me that he didn’t realize that he could be a serious artist. At that moment he realized that he did have artistic talent.” Terrell spoke of the impact of the event on the students from his school: “These students are now inspired to make more meaningful artwork because next year their work could be featured here.”

The parents noted that, without great teachers, their children may not realize their talents. Grace Sanders, artist of an untitled photograph, confessed that she didn’t think her photo would win because, to her, she was just splattering paint on her face. But she submitted the photo because her teacher saw something special in it. Grace’s mom said, “Grace likes to hide all her power and beauty in the dark” and that she was grateful this award gave her the confidence to talk about her work.

We had the opportunity to talk with other student award winners in the shows, who shared these reflections about their works:

“I had a vision and just went for it. It took me about three or four months to create the piece. The wiring took me four hours.” Virginia Dragoslavic, NSU University School, Davie, Florida, on her ceramic vase.

“My friend had a hard childhood. The bottom [of my drawing and illustration] represents her broken past filled with depression and darkness. As you move up, the piece starts to lighten. It is the representation that she could finally see her beauty.” Edward Bustos, Langham Creek High School, Houston, Texas

“My [writing portfolio] was heavily influenced by my environment. It is about race, identity, and who you are and who you have become.” Zainab Adisa, Pittsburgh CAPA School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“My [editorial cartoon “A”] was inspired from a prompt from a literary arts magazine looking for pieces about what holds people back. I thought about stress from pressures of homework, grades, college applications, and student life. ” Evie Polen, Gaston Day School, Gastonia, North Carolina

Evie Polen won a Gold Medal for her editorial cartoon, “A,” portraying the stress of high school.

“My [drawing and illustration] is based on a Scottish proverb, “You can’t keep the birds of sadness from flying above your head but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” Allison Maeker, Klein Oak High School, Spring, Texas

The national show will remain at the Department through July 2018, and the Harris County exhibit will remain through October 2017.

Franklin Nwora, Kipp Academy Middle School in Harris County, with his winning digital art piece, “Heaven’s Rain,” pictured on the right.


Morgan Bassford is an intern from American University in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Chareese Ross is a student art exhibit program associate and editor in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo at the top: 2017 Scholastic winners cut the ribbon to formally open their exhibit.

You can view additional photos from the event here. All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.


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 or visit

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