Imagine a group of elementary students stumbling upon a Tyrannosaurus hulking behind a banister at the Natural History Museum. Fearless, they edge for the perfect angle, aiming lenses so the massive jowls fill the viewfinder. There’s a breathless moment, in which a prehistoric world comes alive. And then “Click” the shutter closes.
Stirred, the students retreat to their classrooms. But they don’t leave the snapshot behind; it’s preserved and printed. Students confront their photo of a giant dinosaur, and a desk doesn’t seem adequate armor – only furious scribbles can stave off gnashing jaws. A preschooler gives us a glimpse of courage in the face of terror: “I chose this photograph because the T-Rex has sharp teeth. I took a close picture so I could see the teeth.”
This snapshot of Literacy Through Photography (LTP) is just one of the ways our 14 partner teachers challenged 281 students to focus their cameras with purpose. At Kramer Middle School, Garfield Preparatory, Martin Luther King Elementary, and Raymond Educational Campus, DCPS students in pre-k through middle school tell powerful stories by taking photos and writing about them.
The intrepid photographers tote cameras on neighborhood safaris with their families and navigate museum halls with their classes to preserve and reflect on family, friendship and community. Teachers help bring the photos to life by challenging students to pen responses to their images.
This year, supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Turning the Page trained teachers to use the LTP curriculum of photography, writing, and reflection in their classrooms. With teachers, we explained camera mechanics and the basic elements of photography. To provide ample material for young artists, we went to the Natural History and National Building Museums for photo shoots. And after a year spent behind a viewfinder, students chose their favorite works for us to format, print, and present.
We’ve begun applauding students’ work with a series of school exhibits. Parents, students, and teachers celebrated in school cafeterias and libraries transformed into festive galleries. Interactive exhibit spaces provided students the chance to exercise the skills they’d gained after a yearlong program, and invited family members and teachers to culminate the work they’d supported. One parent described LTP as a chance for students to explore outside the classroom. “Los hace [los estudiantes] salir de su zona comfortable y se invluelven mas en cosas actuales/it makes them [the students] leave their comfort zone and involves them more in real things.”
We’ve been lucky to witness a candid view of students’ lives — each exhibit has been filled with wonder and deep reflection. Gripped by the sincerity of school displays, we’ve dubbed our final exhibit “DC Unfiltered.” We’ve selected some of the most poignant images and writings to animate curiosity and portray what matters most to students: family, friends, and community.
Turning the Page will proudly display a selection of this year’s photos and writing at gallery 102 on George Washington University’s campus from June 4th through July 11th.
To kick off the display, Turning the Page is having a launch party! Students, teachers, families, and supporters are all invited on June 4 from 6:00-7:30PM.
Come photograph, write, reflect, and celebrate the work of students in DC Public Schools.