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Arts Integration: Getting Started

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In a few weeks, I will start my work with second graders at Davis Magnet IB World School, teaching photography as a way to deepen their study of their neighborhood. I wanted to start by exposing students to great documentary photography. I thought immediately of Roland Freeman, a photographer whose work I admire and who has been a friend of our family for more than 30 years. Freeman, winner of the  National Endowment for the Arts 2007 Bess Lomax Hawes Award, has two projects that I thought fit particularly well: “Stand By Me: African American Expressive Culture in Philadelphia” (some photos from this project made up a National Geographic spread/article) and “The Arabbers of Baltimore.”

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Choosing Freeman made good practical sense, too, because I am able to create a portable “gallery” for the students to view. I’ll take framed posters of these exhibits from my walls at home and set them up in the school auditorium. The above image is from the Arabbers exhibit. Freeman’s photographs document neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Baltimore that our students will likely find familiar, but also different.

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Another early step was deciding just how the students would take photographs. We wanted to take digital images, but we had limited money to spend on materials and supplies. I learned that Davis already owned two digital cameras that students could use. They were Kodak Easyshare 863 cameras. We decided we would take the students out on their photography field trip in groups of six students; we wanted to have at least three cameras so they could pair-up. One student would take photos; the other would take notes. Because we found these cameras at a great discount and because the PTA pledged some money to the project, we were able to get two, which brings the Davis collection up to four. This way a teacher and/or parent helper will also be able to take photographs and we’ll have a back-up if something goes wrong. Some projects I’ve read about use disposable cameras, but one of the goals of the Ask For More Arts collaborative is that the schools will be able to continue these projects in future years, without the aid of an artist. We needed to make sure the tools would continue to be available after the grant ended.

In order to get the students ready to use the cameras, the teachers will ask the students to develop a set of essential agreements for using the digital cameras. I developed a hand-out that will serve as a basic how-to manual, photocopying selectively from the company’s manual. Each student will make a how-to book during the lead-up to our photography field trip — during a center time in the classroom. In my next post, I’ll share the curriculum objectives we will meet with this project and how they inform the content of my first talk with the students.

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