District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Visual Arts Manager Lindsay Vance began her presentation to the 46 educators gathered in a Pulitzer Center education webinar with a quote by Susan Sontag: “to collect photos is to collect the world.” On Friday, April 24th, the above webinar, titled “Photojournalism Techniques for Remote Learning and Social-Emotional Development” shared techniques that can help students to share their world from home.
The discussion was moderated by the Pulitzer Center’s Senior Education Manager Fareed Mostoufi, with insights from District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Visual Arts Manager Lindsay Vance and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WSFC) Social Studies Director Rebecca McKnight. It began with a guided exploration of the Pulitzer Center’s Everyday DC photojournalism unit, and a series of free digital resources that teach students to analyze, compose, caption, and curate photography.
Inspired by Everyday Africa, an Instagram page started by Pulitzer Center grantees Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill that aims to dispel pervasive stereotypes about the African continent, the Everyday DC and Everyday Forsyth projects seek to give students the skills to tell the stories of their communities themselves.
“We want to give young people the ability to share their world with others,” Vance said during her presentation. “Especially kids whose voices aren’t often heard.”
Vance and McKnight oversaw the integration of this curriculum into middle school visual art and third grade social studies classrooms, respectively, in their districts. They go on to describe how these exercises can be adapted to support students’ social-emotional development as well as distance learning environments.
Vance, who is also a licensed art therapist, spoke from a trauma-informed perspective about how students can use photojournalism exercises to address the anxious, disrupted times they are facing. “A program like this can give a sense of normalcy and structure,” said Vance, who added that photojournalism also teaches self-expression and gives a sense of classroom community.
In Winston-Salem, educators used Everyday Africa to study geography, then posed an important question to third grade students: “What is it like for you to be a citizen in Forsyth County?”
“We wanted them to understand what citizenship is, that they’re citizens, and that their voices matter,” McKnight said. “They all have stories to tell but sometimes we don’t slow down and listen to them.”
In Washington, D.C., the curriculum was taught just before distance learning began, with a gallery opening event on March 11th. Given that virtual classrooms are now the norm across the country, the webinar shared how teachers can amend the curriculum to be accessible as students learn from home. From camera phones to Instagram Live to simply drawing a picture rather than snapping a photo, the panelists shared tips for making the Everyday DC unit work from home.
Vance and McKnight assuaged educators’ worries about taking on such a large project during a time like the current one, and encouraged them to empower their students to process their surroundings through photography.
To conclude her presentation, Vance stressed that this is a trying time for educators and students alike. How this project works in practice will vary from class to class, community to community — “acknowledge that we have to do a lot of trial and error in this time,” she said. “And pass that same grace onto your students.”
Overall, “don’t be afraid to try this,” she said. “You’ll be astonished by what they do.”