FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 2, 2012) -- For Cindy Riley, one of the hardest aspects of being in a military family is the distance from extended family.

"Missouri is our 16th place to be. We have only once been close to family, so one of the things my two children miss out on is grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins taking part in their normal kid activities," Riley said.

Thanks to a new program at Thayer Elementary, Riley's son, Ben, is now getting to see what it's like to share his life with his extended family through his artwork.

Debbie Akery, the school's art teacher, has helped the students showcase their art to a worldwide audience through Artsonia, the world's largest online student art museum.

The program, which also resulted in Akery being awarded a $100 education stipend from Seller-Sexton auto dealership, has given her students a worldwide platform for their work and has provided a forum for military children to share their art with family members, and even deployed parents.

Riley said sometimes her children are disappointed because their grandparents can't take part in watching their sporting events or other extracurricular activities, but she said her son loves seeing his art online and is thrilled when his grandparents comment on it.

"I finally saw my son's chest swell with pride as if his grandmother was sitting at his ballgame," she said.

Shontay Brown, mother of 7-year-old Aidan Howell, said her family has had many of the same experiences.

This allows family members from all over to view my child's artwork. So his grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends from prior military bases can see it. This is a good support system for him, academically and socially."

Howell said her husband was deploying every other year and is at training six months out of the year, so Artsonia is a good thing for helping her husband interact with her son.

"Knowing that something like this in place is even better for deployed Soldiers to stay in touch with (their children) and be active with them," she said. "My son also loves to read comments and see what grandma and grandpa thinks. It helps build self-esteem."

Akery said publishing her students' artwork on Artsonia has proven to be beneficial.

"It helps boost the students' pride and self-esteem, technology awareness and multi-cultural awareness. My students can engage in 'virtual field trips' within Artsonia to view the artwork of other students from around the world, developing a broader understanding of how other students live, learn and play. It also encourages families to become more involved in the classroom," she said.

Ben Riley loves the fact that the world can see his "masterpieces."

"When I look at the number of people who has viewed my art, it's a pretty big reward," he said.

Akery said the project has caused her students to put forth extra effort in the art room since the children know it will be posted for the world to see.

"The feedback I have received from family, especially relatives who may not live nearby, is priceless in the development of the child's artistic confidence." Akery said.

Being awarded the grant has given Akery the opportunity to invest even more in art supplies for the students to continue sharing their talents with the world.

"There are many benefits that come with Artsonia, but I think the best is simply giving children an online venue to showcase their art. Many children receive honors for their athletic or music talents; but there are far less avenues for talented artists to shine publicly. And for those children who thought they were not artists, now they are," she said.

To view the artwork of Thayer students, go to and search for Thayer Elementary School.