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Build School Community with a Photography Blog

Collage of student Polaroid pictures.

Showcase the individual personality and unique story that each one of your students brings to your classroom.

Building a school community is an important factor for helping students feel empowered and invested in their school. Because I teach in a diverse community, I wanted a way to showcase our unique and interesting students so they'd feel connected to each other. I decided to follow in the footsteps of a popular blog and launch a photography project.

Further Reading: Exploring Cultures in Your Classroom: Fun Activities to Try

Sharing Our Unique Stories

Humans of New York is a photography blog created by Brandon Stanton. He takes portraits of people he comes across in the city and collects short anecdotes from them. I really enjoyed viewing the photos and reading the stories, and I thought it would be a great idea to emulate his project with students at my school. I wanted the students featured to truly reflect our multicultural school community, so I chose random students by walking up to them before and after school, and asking if they wanted to take part in the project. Most readily agreed, and others even volunteered to participate when they heard about the project.

I thought interviewing the students would be difficult, but it really wasn't. I sat at my computer and asked students questions like: What makes you unique? Has anything really cool ever happened to you? What would you like people to know about you? The resulting vignettes were powerful and compelling.

Once I obtained the stories, I took the photos—obviously making sure the students were OK with having their photos printed. I'm not really a creative photographer, so students usually just stood in front my bookshelves and smiled. Luckily, most teens are quite used to having their photo taken, so they're very natural subjects. I had the photos and stories enlarged and laminated in-house, and we've placed them all over the school.

Here are two of my favorites subjects.

A Sibling's Health Condition: Preston's Story

"I'm Preston, and I'm in 10th grade. I have four siblings. My dad is Puerto-Rican and my mom is Haitian. I can understand Haitian Creole when I speak with my grandmother or other family members, but I don't speak it well. When I was younger, we visited Florida on vacation, and we were at the beach. My sister, who was about 10 at the time, came up to us crying. She couldn't even talk. The ambulance came and took her to the hospital. They flew her by helicopter back to Massachusetts. My sister had a stroke. . . . Fortunately she made a good recovery—although she still has to wear a cast on her leg and she has a slight limp. This made me think about the future and about family. I hope to study business in college. In my free time, I love to play basketball. I play a few times a week, usually with my older brother. It's a fast-paced sport, and it helps relieve stress, and I get to hang out with my friends."

The Long Road to America: Danela's Story

"When I was a baby in El Salvador, my family—mother, father, sister and brother—tried desperately to come to the U.S. When my father filled out the paperwork, he made a mistake on mine. Basically, when I was two, everyone in my family got a Visa, and I didn't. My family went to the U.S. without me. I stayed with my grandmother and my uncle and his family. When my grandmother died, my uncle brought me to Guatemala, and a random lady picked me up and brought me to Mexico. She brought me to Boston. At the airport, my father had a sign with the lady's name and my name, but I didn't recognize him. I thought he was the taxi driver until I saw the tears in his eyes, and then I realized he was my father. . . . I didn't know anyone in my family. My parents got citizenship, and, since I was under 18, I became a citizen, too. . . . I am so impressed with how successful my family became. My sister and brother are both in college, and my father owns four restaurants. I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I do know that I want to continue my family's legacy."

Further Reading: V is for Volunteer: Community Service Projects for Kids

This "Humans of Reve" project has become a unique part of our school's history and a true showcase of our school community. I love that everyone who views the pictures and reads the vignettes gets a little glimpse into who we are. It's enabled students to come together, make connections, and take ownership in their school. I plan to eventually turn the project over to the students so they can create a website where these photos and stories can live forever.