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Briarcliff Students Win Awards for Diversity Works

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Briarcliff High School sophomore Jessica Daneshvar knew that in order to say something about a subject as complex and sensitive as diversity, she wasn’t going to be able to do it alone.

So the 16-year-old instead decided to get her message across through three fictitious journal entries from three different characters.

The idea won her a national award in the National Parent Teacher Association’s Reflections Program . Daneshvar was the only Briarcliff Union Free School District student to win on the national level, but she was one of 17 students who took home awards in the competition. The National PTA Reflections Program is a competition that gives students “the opportunity to express themselves through art, literature, music, dance, film and photography,” according to a press release.

This year’s theme focused on what diversity means and each student designed projects around that central theme. Daneshvar, who beat out thousands of entries in the literature category, said she screamed when she found out she won the award.

“It was extremely exciting because I felt like I had a lot to say about diversity and it was amazing to get recognized nationally for it,” Daneshvar said. “It means so much to me because at Briarcliff I feel like I have a lot of friends with different backgrounds. I have diversified friends but we’re all the same in the mind.”

For her award-winning piece, Daneshvar said she wrote three different ideas in three different journal entries to get across the idea that “diversity means something different to everyone.” One character spoke with the mindset that diversity is an advantage, another spoke of it as a setback and the third came forward with the idea that diversity itself is unbiased. Each perspective came from a piece of her and a piece of non-fiction, she said.

“At school we kept reading about different things throughout history where diversity was treated negatively and I was amazed by this, realizing it still does affect us today even though we’re an advanced society,” Daneshvar said. “So I wanted to show how it touches the adolescent point of view. There are kids who don’t want to be shown as one thing and I think that’s something we can all relate to.”

The state award winners included Jessica Mason and Nate Martorano in the music category; Ali Arminio, Laura Birnbaum, Elisabeth Hunt and Kristen Ma for film; and Samantha Martocci in literature. The regional winners included Caroline Brickell, Florence Chow and Alan Neider for photography; Jacob Gold in literature; and David Kaminsky and Madison Hennessy in visual arts. Briarcliff also had three regional winners from Todd School.

As a first-time winner, 15-year-old sophomore Laura Birnbaum said she learned a lot about expressing diversity through art and especially film.

"Everybody knows high school can be rough so we wanted to try to focus on that and show how diversity affects high school life and stereotypes," Birnbaum said. "It's an important message that's talked about a lot but it's still very important. You don't judge a book by its cover."

Nate Martorano repeated as a state winner with a piece he said attempted to illustrate the diversity in music.

“I think a lot of music today is very similar. So when I started to make this piece I didn’t want it to be put into a single genre,” Martorano , a 17-year-old senior said. “I think the competition is really cool because it promotes a different kind of learning and things you don’t learn in the classroom.”

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