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Varsity Lakes student honored by Arts4All group

September 25, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A Varsity Lakes Middle School student was named the Arts4All Florida September 2019 Student of the Month, a program that increases awareness, while recognizing the impact arts has on students with disabilities throughout the state.

"I'm very happy and surprised because I didn't really know about this," 12-year-old Matthew Smith said.

His mother, Michelle Smith, who teaches students with special needs, said she has nominated some of her past students who were "artsy." When the nomination became available this time around, she currently did not have any students that would qualify, so she decided to nominate her son.

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12-year-old Matthew Smith was named the Arts4All Florida September 2019 Student of the Month.


"I couldn't be prouder. I think it is good for him to see that his hard work is being recognized and is good for others," Michelle said. "It's teaching him leadership skills and helping him become more outgoing."

She went on to say that Matthew being recognized further encourages his love of music, which will keep him moving forward and working hard.

"I love it because it is something we listen to every day," Matthew said of music. "You can learn new stuff, learn a lot about how an instrument is played. "

Another aspect of music he enjoys is the vibrations, the sounds, that are carried through the air.

"The vibrations all have different pitches and sounds and I think that is really cool," Matthew said.

He agreed with his mom in stating that music has helped him in school. Reading musical notes has helped him with his reading skills, as well as math skills because of the counting that is done with beats per minute. Matthew said.

His love of music began at a young age when he started taking interest in the piano in elementary school and joining the band club. Now he plays the trumpet, bugles for his Scout troop and is a member of the school's guitar club.

"He stays very busy," Michelle said. "He really enjoys playing by ear and figuring things out. He has a piano, a couple of guitars and a drum set."

Matthew's love of music has helped him become a leader and take on a leadership role with his Boy Scout troop.

His favorite instruments are the guitar and trumpet. He said the trumpet intrigued him because it can also be played as a bugle.

"I am the bugler," Matthew said of his Boy Scout troop. "Every morning that we are on a camping trip I have to wake up earlier than them. I get myself dressed and get my trumpet and play the bugle to wake them up."

Matthew, who has ADHD and some cognitive delays, said he hopes to add the violin because of the nice tone and calming affect the instrument has.

He takes pride in community service - volunteering for multiple community efforts. His volunteering is also done at the school level during events when he helps with parking, guiding parents and students on tours, as well as promoting school activities. If that was not enough, Matthew is also the Den Chief for a Cub Scout pack once a week.

Arts4All Florida Director of Programs Wendy Finklea said they were just recently branded from VSA Florida, a program in existence for 37 years.

"After 37 years we decided to rebrand because there is no longer funding to help any of us," she explained.

The program was rebranded last year as Arts4All Florida, a nonprofit headquartered at the University of South Florida College of Education.

"The mission is to provide, and support, arts education and the very rich cultural experience for, and, by people with disabilities," Finklea said. "We only have five staff members at USF and five regional coordinators based throughout the state serving as my eyes and ears in helping to build programs."

The Student of the Month program was developed five years ago.

"Research studies show that students that are provided arts education with, and without disabilities, have more inquiry, self-confidence and understand teamwork," she said, adding that they also score better in math and language arts. They are a better all balanced person. This program was a way to validate that. It's based on how the arts impacted the student in a positive way."

Those who are nominated for the Student of the Month have to participate in the arts, as well contribute to the community. Two students are recognized every month - those between 5 to 13 years old, and from 14 to 21 years old. The student has to be enrolled in a public, or private school, or are home schooled, in good academic and behavioral standing, as well as exhibit outstanding artistry, personal growth, confidence and leadership.

Matthew was chosen as the Student of the Month in the 5 to 13 category, while another student in Seminole County was chosen in the older age group.

Finklea said they were in the process of having the award placed on the Lee County School District's School Board's next agenda, so they can recognize him publicly while giving him a beautiful sculpture engraved with his name.

"We always get one of our regional coordinators, or our board member to make a presentation in a public forum," she said. "The common denominator that we seem to find with the winners is they have sincere personal achievement, and a lot for an art form. (They) somehow exemplify leadership through one of the art forms because of self-confidence. The self-confidence that they get, that pushes them forward."

For more information about Arts4All Florida,



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