LITCHFIELD — Two years ago, art teacher Allison Varah traded teaching 700 kids a week in Omaha's Westside school district for teaching 70 kids a week at Litchfield Public Schools.

She said she now is able to develop better relationships with the children.

“You are able to get to know them and focus on their ability and develop their talents more individually,” she said.

In Litchfield, Varah has developed and showcased her students’ talents. This fall semester, she entered all of her elementary school students in the Draw Your Dreams contest sponsored by First National Bank Omaha.

Varah said there were 400 entries in the national contest, which had 12 winners. Three of her Litchfield students and one summer class student from Pleasanton received honors.

She instructed her students to draw what they want to be when they grow up.

“In art, we teach creative problem solving, so they’re given a task of creating four ideas for composition. They choose from the best of those,” Varah said.

Second-grader Gracie Ritchie won $1,000 for drawing herself riding a bucking bronco in a rodeo arena. The money she received has been deposited into the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust, a college savings plan. Varah said the money will gain interest over time.

Pleasanton Public Schools seventh-grader Wyatt Reese worked on the Draw Your Dreams project with Varah last summer. He won $1,000 for his Feed the World drawing.

Wyatt said he was inspired by his dream of becoming a farmer like his dad, Ronnie.

Varah said last year Litchfield first-grader Ava Paitz also won $1,000 in the Draw Your Dreams Contest.

Litchfield Public Schools second-grader Caydence Feldman and sixth-grader Gavin Cole also received recognition. Their entries were selected for display at the Nebraska Association of School Board’s Conference in Omaha in November.

“I was really excited that different people get to see my artwork,” Caydence said.

Caydence’s art is a color pencil drawing of herself as an actress playing an art teacher on stage. Caydence said it took her three days to draw her picture, but she needed only a couple minutes to figure out what to draw.

“When I grow up, I want to be a actress. I kind of also want to become a fashion designer,” Caydence said. When asked why she wants to be an actress she said, “Because everyone gets to watch.”

Gavin’s art depicts himself working on a transformer. Varah said Gavin wants to be an electrician like his dad, Curtis.

Varah said winning honors in the competition has been good for her students’ confidence and has proved to them that they can create creative solutions.

“It also validates their ambitions and dreams and helps them put a picture or image of what they can do someday,” she said.

Litchfield High School students also have had success in competitions. Varah said she is entering her students in the State Visual Arts Competition and hopes that just as many students will be accepted as in the past. She said last year nine students went to the competition and there were five who went two years ago.

“It’s just as stiff of competition as state basketball or state volleyball,” she said.

Two years ago, Varah started a metal art class in Litchfield. She said four of her students made it to state competition with work that they made in the class.

The students pick out their own metal at a nearby scrap iron pile for their creations. Varah said their work has ranged from an owl and turtle to a deer bust.

“The kids use a plasma cutter, and the kids make these amazing sculptures,” she said.

Another one of Varah’s senior students, Corbin Snow, won the Congressional Art Competition last year, and because of his accomplishment, Varah said 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith spoke to the kids at the school.

Varah enters her students in competitions about twice a quarter, and she learns about them from her involvement in the Nebraska Art Teachers Association where she is serving as president. She said there are only a handful of schools in the region that enter competitions.

“I think it’s very important to be involved in these professional organizations, because you’re aware of these competitions that are available for your kids,” she said. “Then you have to do footwork for your kids. Then they can shine.”

When Varah was living in Lincoln, she said she worked with youth to create murals as part of city beautification projects. She said she would love to do something similar with Litchfield students.