top of page
Students’ Opportunity for Artist Recognition

In partnership with the district’s art teachers, the Great Valley School District Education Foundation created the SOAR Program to shine a light on the talents of the district’s art students and encourage and award students’ innovative ideas through art that integrates with the educational experience

2023 SOAR Recognized Artists Honored in May

Strolling the hallway at Great Valley High School on the evening of Monday, May 15, 2023, visitors were treated to an arresting display of images. Music pouring out of a cell phone, with a beautiful clock tower in the background. A night sky, full of twinkling stars and infused with color. Restful scenes of young teens – one kicking back on her bed; the other in a meditative mood, surrounded by flowers. Vibrant, colorful, stunning scenes of nature – one depicting a mountain; the other, a beach scene.


These seemingly disparate pieces of art were created by GVSD art students who entered the 2nd annual SOAR competition. Each entry sought to answer the question, “Where do you go or what do you do to feel most refreshed, recharged or inspired?”


SOAR, which stands for Students’ Opportunity for Artist Recognition, is a program created by the Great Valley School District Education Foundation (GVSDEF). “GVSDEF partners with the district to enhance what we are already offering to our students,” said Steve Skoufalos, president of GVSDEF. “Our aim is to enrich the total student experience. You learn wherever you go, not just in the classroom.”


Dr. Rita Jones, who is currently serving a second term as board member for GVSDEF and who formerly served as GVSD superintendent for 16 years, has spent the last 3 years working with all the art teachers to create just such an “outside-the-box” experience for GVSD art students.


“Across the board, the teachers wanted to create a program that mimicked an actual, real-life art competition,” said Dr. Rita Jones. “They felt it would offer a unique and invaluable experience to the student artists who entered the contest.”


Just like in the highly competitive, real-world art contests taking place today, GVSD artists had to create a piece that not only demonstrated this year’s theme, but also stayed within the boundaries of that chosen theme. They had to complete a “Call for Entries” and prepare a written “Artist’s Statement” to accompany their final product. And because SOAR is a juried art competition, the students’ work wasn’t judged by members of the GVSD community – their work was judged by an adult, professional, working artist.


Sarah Detweiler, who has a BFA in visual communications from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in art therapy from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, served as this year’s SOAR juror. She also just so happens to be a GVSD graduate herself! Sarah has shown her work in solo and group exhibits in galleries across the country. Most notably, her “Hidden Mother” series sold out in two exhibitions with Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia. “It is such an honor to be here presenting these awards tonight,” Detweiler commented. “I was blown away by the talent in the art, and how each artist really dug deeply into the theme.”


Winners from the elementary schools (all from Grade 5) included Zunaira Momin (General Wayne Elementary), Ikbal Yahcin (Sugartown Elementary), Siyao (Amy) Gu (KD Markley Elementary) and Samantha Rogers (Charlestown Elementary). Jasmine Dai (Grade 8) was the recognized SOAR artist from Great Valley Middle School, while Olivia Odike (Grade 12) was the recognized SOAR artist from Great Valley High School.


Creating a piece for the SOAR competition is no small task. “A project this big is completed in steps,” explained Kate Regula, art teacher at General Wayne Elementary School. “First, the student answers questions to help define their theme. Next, they draw a rough sketch, and the teacher provides written feedback. Then, they take the time to create their final piece.”


“The time spent preparing for SOAR definitely varies by student,” Diana Mrochko, art teacher at Great Valley Middle School, commented. “Some students experiment and plan their work for months, while others might have an idea that they are able to complete in a few weeks.”


“Some artists work quickly, while others work very slowly and meticulously,” added Jessica Stanhagen, Great Valley High School’s art teacher.


Thanks to the Education Foundation, GVSD has created an unparalleled learning environment for its art students. “I learned so much on how to portray ideas onto paper and how confusing it can really be to get your point across,” said Jasmine Dai, GVMS, in her artist’s statement.


Another artist had initial doubts about her piece. “It turned out a little different than I imagined. I learned to trust the process, and to stick with the artwork,” explains Olivia Odike, GVHS, in her artist’s statement. “I am glad I stuck with it because I am happy with how it turned out. It is simple and effectively portrays the mood I was going for.”


 For some artists, participating in SOAR sparked joy. “Creating this scene made me calm,” said Zunaira Momin, GWES, in her artist’s statement. Siyao (Amy) Gu, KDM, stated, “I feel like my artwork is smiling at me,” in her artist’s statement.


The art teachers who attended the reception all noted that many of the entries that did not win are still very thought-provoking, beautiful, and impressive. All the artwork that was entered into the SOAR competition can be found gracing the hallways of the various schools.


This year’s winning artwork will spend two years enlivening the hallways of the GVSD Administrative Office Building. It will then be returned to each artist’s home school.

If you would like to donate to the SOAR program to help fund it for future years please use the donate button to the left.
bottom of page