While Ridgeview Charter Middle School student Ellie Ryan has been out of the classroom along with students across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s turned to the violin and the ukulele to keep herself busy.

“These instruments have helped me to stay motivated, to work hard and to keep going even in troublesome times,” the seventh-grade student said in a video about the importance of the arts.

Ryan’s video was one of 386 submissions from Ridgeview and Sandy Springs Charter middle schools students to the Sandy Springs Arts Foundation “Art in Place” contest and partnership.

For the foundation, it is the first major public program since it began a rebuilding phase last fall after a shaky start at fundraising related to the City Springs civic center programming. The foundation started the contest to help students stay connected with art during the stay-at-home order.

The foundation also donated $5,000 to both middle schools to fund art-related resources. Darcey said Ridgeview plans to use the money for a new microphone recording system and instrument storage while Sandy Springs plans to use it for a new software that helps students learn music notes.

“This project is one example of how Ridgeview is better with community support and how our community can be uplifted through partnerships with schools,” Ridgeview principal Oliver Blackwell said in a video introducing the school’s winners.

Maureen Darcey, the SSAF manager, was thrilled with the volume of video submissions. In the videos submissions, students described why art is important to them and recorded a performance or art product.

“To get 386 submissions on the maiden voyage was a testament to the students’ love of art, the dedication of their art teachers and the importance of art in the middle school curriculum,” Darcey said.

The foundation posed the contest to each school, and the art teachers of the middle schools gathered and judged the submissions separately.

Ridgeview picked three finalists who won the contest, which included Ryan, Lexie Rothman and Trey Daniels, who are all in seventh grade. These videos were a compilation of the importance of art to each student and what they use to express themselves.

Sandy Springs Charter chose to place each performance. The first-place winner was eighth-grader Maralgua Davaadali with a violin performance. Eighth-grader Joanna Speck was second with a piano performance, and seventh grader Marianna Villareal was third with a vocal performance. Rhianna Minot, Arianna Shultz and Ravshan Ibraginav received honorable mentions. To see videos of the winners, see the foundation’s Facebook page here.

Darcey said the foundation has never done a contest of this magnitude, and she was happy to see the students respond enthusiastically. Eighth-grade art classes may be a student’s last formal art education experience, so Darcey felt this contest was especially important to this age group.

“Art and arts education has the most pivotal power at the middle school level because that’s when the kids’ brains are activating more in the imagery and creativity realm,” Darcey said.