“Hidden Treasures” is about finding new perspectives and discovering the amazing right in front of – and even within – ourselves. Two groups of students were involved, a class of eighth grade students learning about photography and a class of sixth graders who created an almanac filled with original writing and art. Each of these was part of our school’s intervention period (“PRIDE”) which has a focus on literacy. Both groups worked under the mentorship of photographer/journalist/book creator Bob Campagna.
The photography class (which included students in special education, identified gifted and talented, learning English as a second language, and/or living in poverty in addition to “typical” students) utilized digital cameras as participants learned to apply a variety of visual art concepts. Students found foreground and background; took vertical and horizontal pictures; tried close-ups and abstracts; experimented with backlighting, side lighting and reflections; and over the course of three months, shot pretty much everything on the school campus from some angle! The literacy components came in as students read a variety of articles on the principles and techniques of photography as well as in their critiques of their own and their peers’ work. Early in the semester they met with their mentor and set goals, then had him in periodically as they moved toward those goals. Mid-way through the semester, they were introduced to film cameras and each student was entrusted with a 35mm SLR camera and two 36-exposure, professional-quality rolls of black-and-white film. Splitting the class in half, we took two teachers, the photographer, and groups of students for full-day photography outings with a variety of rural and urban routes. Half-day experiences in Bob’s professional darkroom in the following weeks allowed students to turn their shots into amazing works of art which were displayed in the school and appreciated by students and staff from across the school. As the year ends, the teacher will be presenting each student with a gift of a calendar made from a collection of the best pictures from across the class over the course of the semester.
The sixth grade class took the concept “hidden treasures” a different direction as they explored the overlooked gems in their world. Using a design cycle, students planned for their audience, wrote rough drafts, and revised their work (often many times). In the end they created an 80-page almanac of writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry and song) and art (drawings, paintings and photography) which they proudly published and shared with family and friends. Bob Campagna served as a mentor for this group as well, encouraging students to write about their art and to take their thinking deeper. Once the work was polished, Bob spent hours sitting with each student, helping him/her understand the process of page layout and book development, and allowing each to each make decisions about colors and fonts and shadows and more. In reflecting on their first year in middle school, many proudly recounted the work they did for Hidden Treasures 2016 and declared that was the highlight of their year.
As much as we have loved this experience (and grown just as much as our students), we have gained a few new perspectives ourselves: 1) Don't task a retiring teacher with creating a new class because you will want to find someone else to keep it going, 2) Start early because great things always take longer than expected, and 3) Don't save the grant report for the last week!