All spring, artists have been teaching elementary school kids in Philadelphia how to use photography to become better at reading and writing.
The “Literacy Through Photography” program has children snap photos of their lives, then write about what they see. Now their work is on display at the Moore College of Art and Design gallery through Sept. 10.
Many of the kids are not great students. Hailing from CCA Baldi, Dimner Beeber and Grover Washington Jr. middle schools, William Cramp Elementary, and Nueva Esperanza Academy, many come out of special education classes or are learning English as a second language. Often they don’t have the confidence to write expressively or even coherently.
Nevertheless, they come up with some gems.
One took a picture of a television, and wrote on top of the image that he likes to go into his brother’s bedroom to watch TV because he can “smell the freshness of a clean room.”
“To get kids to pay attention to how to connect words with sound and feeling and emotion and smell and taste,” said program coordinator Elizabeth Gilly. “It’s showing them how to write and connect what you’re feeling to what you’re writing.”
The “Literacy Through Photography” program partners working artists with teachers. Together they run workshops during class time. Several students photographed and wrote about what they see in their neighborhoods—such as guns, loneliness and where dealers hide drugs. William Cramp art teacher Kim Gavin was shocked by how keenly aware the kids are of everything around them.
“There’s as much heaven as there is hell here,” said Gavin. “The kids are very aware of family being very important. Even the school as that space of safety, of stability–they are very much aware of that. The kids do not see the world as all bad.”
Many of the photos are self-portraits; Gavin says one of the challenges of teaching writing to kids is finding something they want to write about.