Exeter Township High School juniors Brynn Patchell and Olivia Biancone have been selected by Vans as top 50 finalist in the “Custom Culture” competition, which empowers high school students from across the nation to customize a pair of blank Vans shoes with the themes.

If their shoes garner enough votes, they’ll qualify to move onto the next round of judging, during which an expert panel will select the winning entry and present a check for $50,000 to the winning school’s art program.

Choosing the theme Head in the Clouds, Patchell said she spend hours working on the design, with many late nights. “They represent how, during quarantine, we had to think of other places to be in our heads.”

“It’s pretty exciting” said Biancone, as she showed off her shoes, themed Hometown Pride. “The eyes represent being all together on Zoom, and the crystal lining represents the strength and staying all together during quarantine.”

“We had no idea we would make it to the top 50” said Patchell, adding, “If we win, we get $50,000 dollars for our art program, which would be pretty cool.” Voting is open now through Friday May 7.

High school art teacher, Christina Pinkerton, is thrilled with her students’ national recognition and the themes they explored through their artistic work.

Biancone’s shoes prominently feature eyeballs among swirls of pink, yellow and glitter.

Pinkerton said, “Olivia is a virtual student so the eyes are appropriate with keeping connected to her classes at Exeter via Zoom. (On) Zoom, it seems like there are eyes on you from all around.”

Describing Patchell’s shoes, which feature land and sea creatures fantastically painted in bright colors, Pinkerton said, “Many of us traveled the world or to fantasy places during quarantine by reading or watching TV and movies in hopes to escape the mundane daily life that we had to live during the time of closures.”

Both students, she said, pursued the projects during their free time, and both hope to pursue art in college and as careers after they graduate from Exeter Township High School.

If Exeter is selected as the winning entry, Pinkerton would like to see the funds used for community and collaborative art initiatives and therapies that would unite Exeter students, who have dealt with academic, social and emotional difficulties during the pandemic.

She wrote in her impact statement to the Vans’ judging panel: “As we are in a time of turmoil with COVID, we find that the protocols we are following to protect ourselves are preventing students from social and school activities, from seeing friends, and even coming into the classroom physically. Because of this, we are seeing many individuals falling into the realm of depression and other mental disorders, grades plummeting, and students withdrawing from society. Art is therapeutic, and by creating an art program district wide, we could help unit the student body and inspire all of the students to work together collaboratively creating artwork that they could feel ownership of and be proud to have taken part in.”

Public online voting on the students’ shoes will end on May 7. To cast a free vote to help earn Exeter Township School District’s art program $50,000, visit customculture.vans.com, click on vote now and select the Exeter entry.

This article is also available in: Español (Spanish)