Kids create a sense of place

Published May 11, 2007

When the national PTA asked students across the country, "What is your favorite place?" PTAs were flooded with responses. Kids sent in more than 500, 000 photographs of playgrounds and bedrooms, sketches of themselves sleeping and water-skiing, and recordings of their self-composed music.

The works of three students in New Tampa were selected to compete nationwide. "To have just one student is quite an honor, " national PTA president Anna Weselak said.

Today you can see the work of Donna Peppard, Sarah Griffin and Xuming "Simon" Zeng at links.tampabay.com.

Students were urged at the beginning of the school year to illustrate their favorite place through one of six categories: literature, musical composition, photography, visual arts, dance choreography and, for the first time, film and video production.

In Florida, 14, 841 students participated. The Florida PTA was allowed to send only 24 for national judging.

A little about the contestants:

- Donna Peppard, 10, attends fourth grade at Chiles Elementary School and lives in Lake Forest.

Donna wanted to express her love for both her mother and ballet. Using a borrowed video camera, she performed a dance called "In My Mom's Arms" that begins, literally, in her mother's embrace.

"I wrote all my moves down, when I wanted to jump and stuff, " Donna said. She selected her mom's favorite song, Caruso by Andrea Bocelli.

As the routine ends, Donna cradles her favorite doll, Felicity from the American Girl line.

"I was sort of starting to think what would I be like as a mom, and I expressed that with the doll, " she said. "I was trying to copy my mom as much as I could."

"In My Mom's Arms" was one of 66 entries to receive an Award of Excellence.

- Sarah Griffin, 11, of Tampa Palms, is in fifth grade at Tampa Palms Elementary. Her production, "My Dog and My Piano, " stars Maggie, a 4-year-old Lhasa apso named for the storybook character Maggie McGee.

Without any formal piano training, Sarah composed music that reminded her of "petals falling off a flower on a sunny day." She then taped Maggie romping throughout the house, slowing it down 20 percent and adding a sepia tone to the video.

Sarah put the music and the footage of her dog together to create her piece. "My dog is like a fluffy pillow, " Sarah wrote to the judges. "I like to slow down the moments with my dog."

- Xuming "Simon" Zeng, 10, lives in the University Area and is a Tampa Palms Elementary fifth-grader. A gifted pianist, he has outgrown his local piano teacher and is guided long distance by a composer in Indiana.

"I don't know where he got that talent, " his mother, Jing Zeng, said. "No one in the family plays any instruments."

Simon looks forward to summers, when he and his family spend weekends at his favorite place: Adventure Island.

Simon would sit at the piano and think of the water slides and remember the thrilling feel of the waves. If he didn't feel the inspiration, he would set his music aside until the nostalgia came back.

"I just thought about how the attractions felt, " Simon said. "They're exciting."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at nguyen@sptimes.com or 813 269-5312.


. On the web

See New Tampa's adorable Reflections entries online at links.tampabay.com.