Flash Features: news and student achievements

Vicky Gebert  ’15 named one of 20 Presidential Scholars of the Arts in country

Gebert created a dress made entirely out of recycled material.

Gebert created a dress made entirely out of recycled material. photo courtesy: Vicky Gebert

Vicky Gebert ’15 has been named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts as a result of a selection process stemming from her recognition as a 2014 Finalist in the YoungArts program. More than 11,000 students applied to the National YoungArts Foundation, which accepts 171 artists and displays their work at the Kennedy Center in Miami.

Because of her selection as a finalist more than a year and a half ago, Gebert was was able to apply to become a normal Presidential Scholar in the Arts. Unlike the process to become a Presidential Scholar, the application process is not open to all students. “The only way for anyone to become a Presidential Scholar in the Arts is to apply for YoungArts, and then through YoungArts [there is] another selection process to become a Presidential Scholar,” she said.

Of the YoungArts awards recipients, 60 were nominated to be Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and Gebert is one of the 20 that made the final cut. “I was pretty shocked … it was really out of the blue, so that sort of added to the shock factor, but after it sunk in I was really happy,” she said.

Gebert first started her artistic career by working with sculpture and fashion. Now she has focused her art in a more specific area. “I … work almost exclusively with found items … I just pick up trash or … raid our basement for stuff I can use,” Gebert said.

At the Miami exhibition, Gebert displayed two of her pieces. “One of them was this … brown trash dress and the other one was a bowling ball and feather sculpture I made out of cardboard,” she said. In Miami, she was able to meet other artists, attend master classes, and have her pieces adjudicated.

On June 21, Gebert will join the other 19 Scholars in the Arts in Washington, D.C. for an honorary ceremony. “[The first] night we’re having the medallion ceremony, which is where we get these gold medallions … from the President. On the second day, [there are] performances and exhibitions and then on the last day they’ve … set aside a lot of time for us to meet the President and [people who work with him],” she said.

Gebert said that her art has taught her several important lessons. “Never give up with art,” she said. “There are a lot of points during the process of making a piece of art that you just [want to] … throw it in a corner and forget about it, but usually that’s … a very important part in making art [as well as] … bringing something new to it.”

Aspiring artists should not stick to what they know, according to Gebert. “You really have to get out of your comfort zone. Within art you should be trying a lot of new things … [For example,] if you think you’re a painter … you should try out sculpture or illustration,” she said. “That can [also] apply to entering competitions and doing exhibitions which is just really important … as an artist. If you want your art to touch as many people as possible you have to get yourself out there.”


Talia Zinder ’16 runner-up in statewide film contest

The Count Basie Theatre hosts an annual statewide film festival to recognize high school and college students in the state of New Jersey who submit the best self-made films. PHS student Talia Zinder ’16 was a runner-up in this competition at the high school level for her short film, 8.3.

The films follows a female lead who progressively murders several people who are obsessed with their cellphones. She kills them by tempting them to pick up her own phone, which has been infected with a deadly pathogen.

Zinder based the film on one she had made previously. “A couple summers ago I made a [similar] film. It had a different idea, and I didn’t really like the way it came out, so I wanted to redo it,” she said. “And then my friend [Eli Stern, a Princeton University student,] helped me come up with a stronger storyline. He took a mediocre story and gave life to [it].”

She created the film at Columbia University’s High School Film Program last summer—so the next year, when it was announced that she was runner-up, she was surprised. “My first reaction was disbelief which later turned into excitement,” Zinder said. She received a Sony video camera as the second-place prize.

Zinder plans to pursue a career in film, and this film was an important step in that direction. “If someone goes to a film festival and they see my film and they get interested in it, they can talk to me about buying the rights for it … So it could basically lead to the next chapter of my life,” she said.

Overall, Zinder has gained a lot through this process. “I learned that it’s okay to let others morph ideas which seem solid in your head to an idea that you would never have thought of,” she said. “My advice is to just do it. Don’t wait and complain … just make it work and give it your all.”

Princeton High School earns gold medal status in ranking

Princeton High School received gold medal status in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best High Schools Rankings list, which was announced on May 12. More than 21,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia were assessed for the list, in which PHS ranked 143rd in the nation and seventh in New Jersey.

Schools were awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals based on their performance on state assessments and how well they prepare students for college. “It is not as if we took any steps with a goal of being a gold medalist. We always try to have the best curriculum, the best instruction, the best programs that we can have for all of our students,” said Principal Gary Snyder.

Snyder said that changes often include adjustments to the curriculum, creation of new courses, and the addition of professional development for staff.

PHS was reported to attain 98 percent proficiency in language and 94 percent proficiency in mathematics, according to the list—and this is largely because PHS is able to adapt to how well students are doing, Snyder said. “We look at how students are performing. We look at our strengths and our weaknesses. We look at how we might improve,” he said.

In order to improve students’ college readiness index (which the U.S. News and World Report measures based on students’ exposure to and scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests), PHS added the AP Computer Science last year and the Organic Chemistry course the year before.

Snyder hopes that in the future, students will be able to directly apply the knowledge they gain throughout their high school experiences. “Students take all these different courses [and] they seem like individual courses, but we are trying to think about an idea, where a senior will [be able to] to take [a course including] all of what they have learned in [the] three and a half years and bring all that together somehow, in a capstone project,” Snyder said.

According to Snyder, PHS also takes steps to make sure all students receive the same opportunities. “We always use the word ‘all.’ Anything we do is to help all students,” he said. “We have a very diverse school … We try to recognize and identify students in [minority] groups and support them.”

Snyder stressed that while the ranking is certainly notable, PHS does not focus its efforts on students in order to place high on these lists—rather, to make an impact on their lives. “We look at some [of the] things and [see] we are doing them very well, and continue to do them,” he said.

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