Teaching Photography & Advocacy to D.C. Youth

 
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Jun 9, 2011

Student Spotlight: Josh

Below is an article written for DCist that highlights the work done by Critical Exposure with students at the Washington Metropolitan High School and their effort to build a library.

"While textbooks may be the primary instruments used in D.C. classrooms, many school libraries offer resources for students to expand their knowledge beyond core curriculum, explore topics of individual interest and provide exposure to books and computers that may not be available at home. Many students for whom school libraries are accessible and well-stocked may take them for granted, not realizing that for many of their classmates within the city, like those at Washington Metropolitan High School, such resources are simply not available. But some of the students actually care and are demanding more from their school system.

D.C. Met, as it's known to its students, opened in an old middle school building located in Ledroit Park on the Howard University campus in the fall of 2010. With no pre-existing library or funds to establish one, students have not had access to the resources available to students in other schools, including books, study aids, computers or, of course, a librarian. Students like Joshua and his peers understand the role school libraries fill in a well-rounded education, and are determined to influence change and make the library a reality by advocating for policy changes from those in power, believing that DCPS should guarantee that no school be without a functioning library due to lack of funds. They are working very hard to draw attention to the needs of their school and are accomplishing this through photography.

"This is a broken doorknob sitting on a table. It needs to be fixed just like the education system," explains Joshua, a rising senior at Washington Metropolitan High School, who names Gordon Parks, Marion Palfi, and previous Critical Exposure students as photographic influences.

"The doorknob is a symbolic figure of how the library is not in use during the school year. The library and the doorknob are one in the same: dysfunctional. But we can do something about it if we have help from those in power," he says. "We need help to build up our library so that we can have more access to knowledge. Since we didn't have a library this year, students are completely missing out on access to books that everyone else has."

Joshua and students like him have found their voice through Critical Exposure, a nonprofit program that teaches youth to use the power of photography and their own voices to become effective advocates for school reform and social change. Students have the opportunity to speak out about the issues that affect them personally through photographs that document and spotlight their concerns, such as the empty room where unorganized boxes of books are stored on the dusty floor. Across the city, the student-driven campaigns target issues like the quality of school lunch programs, access to arts and after-school programs and the opening of Roosevelt High School's front door, which has been closed for years, limiting students to a back alley entrance.

 

07JUN2011_CriticalExposure_Joshua3.jpg
School library, Photograph by Joshua, Washington Metropolitan High School.

Using photography, the students at D.C. Met invited members of the D.C. Public Schools' Office of Youth Engagement and the Shaw Public Library to a "Library Action Meeting," where they presented photos comparing their books to that of a real public library. The D.C. Public Library responded with a commitment to establish a public library outpost with several hundred books on long-term loan to the school, as well as provide a lunchtime book club for students. Community members have also pledged to help students meet with D.C. Councilmembers, ANC members and other literacy advocates to continue securing the resources they need to have a stocked and staffed library."

 - text from DCist article titled "Students Improve Education Infrastructure, One Photo at a Time" by Angela Kleis.  http://dcist.com/2011/06/critical_exposure.php

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Project Leader

Adam Levner

Co-Director
Washington, D.C. United States

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Map of Teaching Photography & Advocacy to D.C. Youth