With large-scale celebrations and gatherings canceled due to the pandemic, the Pinellas County Tax Collector's Office found a way to give personalized recognition to local fifth-grade students.

The 2020-2021 school year marks the sixth year for the Kids Tag Art Pinellas program, a partnership between the Pinellas County Tax Collector's Office, Pinellas County Schools, and various community sponsors, to raise money for local elementary art classrooms.

The KTA program enables participating art teachers to purchase much-needed classroom art supplies without having to dig into their own pockets. Funds are raised through online sales of the fifth-grade students' artwork — unique, front-facing vanity plates — with 100 percent of the proceeds go back into the classrooms.

Part of the KTA program entails a juried art contest where winners from each participating school are selected by a panel of judges and community sponsors. Every January, since inception, these student winners are invited to a special awards ceremony and recognized on stage in front of family and friends.

However, this year, due to COVID-19, the award ceremony went virtual.

Although the student winners were celebrated virtually, Pinellas County Tax Collector Charles W. Thomas and his KTA team felt that something was missing — the aspect of personal recognition. So, they came up with a creative way to do something a little extra for this year's special sponsor choice award winners.

Out of more than 1,100 design submissions, 10 select students were hand-picked by the KTA Pinellas program's top sponsors to receive recognition, including a framed certificate featuring their artwork as well as sponsor swag bags. The KTA team coordinated with the winning students' schools to create personal, safe, and socially distanced award ceremonies.

"This year, a lot had to change because of COVID-19, both for our offices and our Kids Tag Art team," Thomas said. "One thing that we did not want to change was celebrating these talented students. This program means a lot to our organization and it really is all about these students. They deserve to be recognized for this accomplishment."

Thomas and his KTA team visited the school of each winning student to present the awards. The winners were extremely excited and proud, and many invited their parents, art teachers, and peers to attend. Thomas personally recognized each winner by congratulating them on their achievement and presenting them with their awards.

2020-2021 Sponsor Choice Winners:

• Tax Collector Choice Award, Oliver O., Curlew Creek Elementary

• CenterState Bank Sponsor Choice Award, Kayleigh R., Oakhurst Elementary

• Tag Agency of Pinellas Choice Award, Chloe T., Seminole Elementary

• Florida Heart Research Foundation Sponsor Choice Award, Sylas F., Southern Oak Elementary

• Direct Mail Systems, Inc. Sponsor Choice Award, Nicholas H., Fuguitt Elementary

• Pinellas County Sheriff's Sponsor Choice Award, Emma T., Ozona Elementary

• Office & Flooring Worx Sponsor Choice Award, Zoe B., Ozona Elementary

• Lauren's Kids Sponsor Choice Award, Jaela T., Brooker Creek Elementary

• Bill2Pay Sponsor Choice Award, Gabe M., Brooker Creek Elementary

• Cici's Pizza Sponsor Choice Award, Kaydynce M., Starkey Elementary

More than 1,100 students from all over the county participated in this year's program and the Tax Collector's office raised over $30,000 in donations alone from generous local sponsors.

Since its inception, more than $200,000 has been raised by Kids Tag Art Pinellas for local elementary art classrooms and programs. The winning tags from this year will be placed on display in Tax Collector offices around the county soon.

To find out more about Kids Tag Art, view and shop this year's student art, or to become a sponsor, visit kidstagartpinellas.org.