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Holladay Journal

Oakwood student sees an ocean in bubbles and wins Reflections honorable mention

Jul 13, 2020 12:24PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Paul Navaravong was in fourth grade at Oakwood Elementary when he entered his photograph for Reflections. His entry won an honorable mention at the state level. (Photo courtesy of Chayanoot Navaravong)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Oakwood fourth-grader Paul Navaravong had intended to enter the 2019-2020 Reflections contest, but the entry itself was kind of an accident. So it was a happy surprise when the photograph he submitted for the theme “Look Within” ended up winning him an honorable mention at the state level. 

“My little sister Rosie was doing a science experiment with milk, soap and food coloring. It was supposed to make a rainbow, and it didn’t look like it was working. I said it looked like an ocean, and I took a photograph of it with my mom’s phone,” Paul said. 

He used the photograph for his Reflections entry. He didn’t think he had much of a chance to win, especially after he saw other entries. “I went to this room with all the winners, and I saw people had videos and really good paintings. It felt really good to win,” Paul said. 

Paul’s mom Chayanoot Navaravong was pleasantly surprised, too. “We didn’t expect him to win at all; it was just a random picture. We were excited and so proud of him. We just moved here from Iowa, so this is nice,” Navaravong said. 

Reflections entries in Utah advance through different levels, beginning with the school, said Rebekah Pitts, a Utah PTA Board Reflections specialist. 

“There are five levels of the program—school, council, region, state and national. The quality of Utah entries this year was outstanding. Of the 30 Utah entries that advanced to the national level of competition, 16 won national awards. Utah had more national winners than any other state,” Pitts said. 

Like most school activities, COVID-19 restrictions changed the original plans for the March 27 Reflections Awards Night. Fortunately, the entries had already been judged, so after some brainstorming, Pitts and her committee came up with a virtual awards night on May 2, the day after national winners were announced.

“When we realized we would not be able to hold an in-person celebration, we needed a way to honor the children that would be memorable and make each child feel special. Because we had all of the entries turned in and judged online, we had access to create a virtual program,” Pitts said. 

Pitts went out of her way to make sure each student received their award in the mail. “I contacted each parent to verify that I had the correct mailing address and to inquire about name pronunciation. This was a labor of love as we had over 180 state winners. My family helped me package the awards and certificates to mail out so they would arrive by the night of the virtual awards night,” Pitts said. 

For the virtual awards event, Pitts created a slideshow with clips and screenshots of all the winning entries. It was easier on winners outside the Salt Lake Valley because they could attend without having to make the long drive. 

Pitts will barely have time to catch a breath before she starts working on the 2020-2021 Reflections contest. The theme for 2020-2021 is “I Matter Because…” She won’t be surprised if some of the student work is inspired by the unusual year we’ve had. But she stressed that the most important part is how the student interprets the theme and articulates it in her or his artist statement.  

“The beauty of the Reflections program is that the children reflect on the theme and create artwork expressing what that theme means to each one of them individually. They are free to make any connection that has meaning to them personally. Pieces with a creative but understandable theme interpretation often score well and advance far in the program,” Pitts said. 

Reflections specialists at the schools avoid making suggestions like tying in the theme with the pandemic. “It will be interesting to see how the children interpret the theme ‘I Matter Because…’ We want the children to interpret the theme in ways that resonate with them personally rather than using suggestions from others. But I will not be surprised if many entries tie in feelings and events that occurred during the pandemic,” Pitts said. 

As Paul found out, sometimes the inspiration for a winning entry can strike at an unexpected time, or something beautiful can come out of what initially looked like a failure. Paul titled his work “The Experiment.” His interpretation was a positive spin on the theme of “Look Within.” 

“It was my sister’s failure-ish experiment. But when I looked at it, there was all the blue and it had bubbles and I saw what looked like foam. She thought it was a failure, but I looked within and saw an ocean,” Paul said.