“I don’t want to be ignorant/ I want to be a scholar/ I am from education.”

Thanks to a partnership with Syracuse University, SCSD students at Ed Smith, ITC and Fowler are learning about poetry, photography and art through the Photography and Literacy (PAL) Project.

This year, Ed Smith sixth graders focused their work around the theme “This is where I’m from.” They started by completing writing prompts describing their room, then branched out to their home, their neighborhood and their community. Stories varied from the serious to the humorous and beyond.

“I wrote about where I’m from and what I go through in my everyday life,” Kye Sinclair explained. “I wrote about bobby pins because my sisters are always doing their hair!”

Over a 10-week period, students work with journals and digital cameras to learn storytelling techniques and media skills, learning about themselves in the process. At the end of the program, students select their favorite written piece and photograph to combine into one final image, which is framed and displayed at a reception at the Link Gallery at the Warehouse.

“Having my art on display makes me feel like there was a purpose to my project,” Jabari Diggs explained. “With the PAL Project, we got to know SU students and we saw the similarities and differences between all of us. It was fun to experiment with taking pictures and to find one that brought out the character of where I’m from.”

Students even studied the work of the late street photographer Helen Levitt, whose work is being celebrated in an exhibition at The Everson Museum of Art through May. In response to Levitt’s photographs, four students had their photos submitted to be on display alongside the exhibition.

Ed Smith Art Teacher Mary Lynn Mahan said the PAL Project has been a great way for students to discover more about themselves and each other.

“The best person to tell your story is you,” she explained. “The PAL Project allows students to tell their own story. Sometimes, it’s so raw that they have trouble at first. But the more you work with them, the more authentic that story becomes.”

For students, the opportunity to work with college students who taught them about cameras, editing software and other technology was an exciting experience.

“This was a really cool project,” Martine Dosa said. “In elementary school, we just did drawings and things like that. But for this, the SU students showed us what editing options there were and we learned how to do them. It was great to have their help!”


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