WALDOBORO — More than 250 students and staff members at Medomak Valley High School are learning to identify why they matter this semester as part of an advanced photography class project aimed at reminding the school community the feelings of love and empowerment.
Spearheading the campaign is art educator Brooke Holland, who was inspired to launch the campaign after attending the National Art Education Association conference in Boston last year.
At the conference, she listened to a presentation from art teachers representing Chelsea High School in Michigan describing their #WhyYouMatter art project in response to student deaths.
“I loved this project as it would be a way to bring our community together,” said Holland. “I want students to feel loved, empowered and to know that they are special.”
Inspired by her peers at the Michigan school, Holland decided to bring the campaign to Waldoboro.
“A project like this brings people together both in the making and in the presenting,” she stated. “This project and artwork like this resonates with me because I want to make a difference in this world and art has the power to bring people together.”
Holland is the lead of the project team that includes 14 students from the high school’s advanced photography class and community volunteer and photographer Kyle Santheson.
Santheson, a volunteer, received high praise from Holland.
“This project would not have been possible without Kyle Santheson,” she said. “Kyle has come in for every class helping with the portrait unit first and the set up and organization of this project. Since it’s rolled out, he has been there to help the students with any technical assistance and he has been graciously printing out the portraits hours at a time. I am forever grateful for his contribution to my students and to the success of this project.”
The student photographs themselves are not only learning important photography skills, but also having a blast as they bring the project to life.
“We prepared with a portrait unit and organization of image files prior to rolling it out, but overall it has been learning on the job as it is a huge undertaking,” said Holland. “We found a good flow after the first week and a half. I cannot stress more how the students stepped up to the plate, coming in during study halls, lunch, and after school to take portraits and to promote the project.”
While each photography student was only required to take 20 portraits, several of Holland’s students have exceeded 50.
“When I introduced this project, the students were all in,” said Holland. “I think they recognized that this was something big they were going to be a part of and help others recognize their worth.”
With more than 250 people sitting for photograph sessions, Holland’s students have learned several skills, including how to avoid reflections in glasses and encouraging them to communicate with people they typically may not interact with.
In fact, several participants struggled with what to write for their response to the question of why they matter.
“Students started to feel more at ease with providing suggestions and helping others draw out their feelings including teachers,” said Holland. “This project brought the class closer together as they worked towards a common goal.”
The project will be made public March 12 for the school district’s art show. It is at that time, Holland believes, the greater impact these portraits will have on the community will be fully realized.
Santheson, for his part, believes the mid-March unveiling of the full project is when the student photographers will fully grasp the influence art can have.
“Overall, I get the feeling that they are proud of their accomplishment,” he said. “I'm not sure some of them understand how much of an impact they will have.”
Asked about future projects in similar nature, Holland noted she is open to any project that will unite the community and acknowledge the self-worth of students and staff.
Fittingly, she offered a quote from Ernest Boyer, an innovator of secondary and postsecondary education: “Art helps us see connections and brings a more coherent meaning to our world.”
Reach George Harvey at: firstname.lastname@example.org.