For Jessica Eastom, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards program is more than an annual competition for high school and middle school students. It shaped her life.
As a junior at Carroll High School, the Gold Key award she received for a photography entry, in her mind, “validated” she had the talent to pursue a career in art education. As a senior, her Gold Key portfolio award and five individual awards attracted colleges, resulting in scholarship offers that allowed her to attend the college of her choice, the University of Saint Francis.
“It's the best thing that could have happened,” Eastom, now in her third year as visual arts teacher at South Side High School, said of her experience in the Scholastic program.
The past few years, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, which organizes this region's Scholastic Art and Writing competition, has seen award winners here receive a combined total of more than $1 million in college scholarship offers — some to the most prestigious art schools in the country, said Thomas Niezer, museum board president. The scholarship total includes offers from multiple schools to the same student.
That's a great return, Niezer said, for the $35,000 to $40,000 the museum invests in organizing the competition, for which The News-Sentinel is a sponsor.
“We are making a difference in the community, because college is so expensive,” said Max Meyer, the museum's director of children's education and the coordinator of the art portion of the Scholastic competition.
Since 2004, when the museum took on organizing this Scholastic regional from a local group that had done it, the number of participants and award winners has grown steadily.
Last year, Fort Wayne regional winners won 30 awards in national judging, putting this site among the Top 10 regionals in the country for the fifth year in a row, Niezer said.
The benefits of the program go beyond that success, however, Niezer said.
*The Scholastic Art and Writing competition provides a showcase for students who are interested in art and writing, much like state high school athletic tournaments do for students who compete in sports and Indiana State School Music Association contests does for students in music, he said.
*Being involved in art and writing typically results in students achieving higher academic scores, Niezer said.
*Some schools use the success of their students in the Scholastic program — and the scholarship offers it generates — to justify continuing to offer art classes, he said.
*The scholarship offers have led more local students to attend local colleges, such as Saint Francis and Indiana Wesleyan, Niezer said.
“They are ones we have the best shot will come back here” for careers in architecture, urban design and planning, computer and graphics design, and advertising fields, he said.
That's how it worked for Eastom, who graduated from Saint Francis in 2010 and started that fall in her job at South Side.
Life experience led her to become an art teacher.
“It is in my heart to help people,” she said. “My mentors were art teachers, and I wanted to be like them.”
She now teaches photography, jewelry making, painting and drawing at South Side. She also encourages her students to take part in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
As in her case, it's a way to get your work seen and to get feedback on portfolios before applying to college, she said. The exhibit of Scholastic award winners, which opens Sunday at the Museum of Art, also opens up the world for her students.
“Our kids — north to them is the (Glenbrook) mall,” she said. “To see the work of kids from Carroll and Leo is a big deal.”