For my research project, I created a mentorship program to teach photography and text in alternative learning spaces to court involved youth. Desired outcomes include fostering and promoting positive self-esteem by developing new skill sets acquired from learning the technical and creative skills of photography. This process also results in promoting positive and respectful communication skills as students learn how to write about and critique their work and the work of others.
This summer I spent three days each week working with 3-5 residents at Stepping Stones. Stepping Stones is a community-based, non-secure residential treatment program for male court involved youth, ages 14-17 that is located in Fairfax County, Virginia.
After our first session each resident was provided with a DSLR camera, two lenses, and a portable flash drive. During our sessions the program participants learned how to operate a DSLR camera. They also learned how to select the appropriate lens and the fundamentals of composition and lighting. Lessons also included instructions on how to upload images from memory cards to Adobe Lightroom and how to edit images in Adobe Photoshop.
The first session of each week would typically begin with a critique of their work from the prior week. The remainder of our time was spent photographing, scrapbooking, creating cyanotypes, and/or learning about other camera-based processes and influential photographers. For the final week of my program, we will have an exhibition showcasing their work to their families.
From my observations throughout the project, I feel that to continue my program in the future a few adjustments could be made in the following ways. For instance, it was difficult having only a single laptop when uploading and editing images with a group of five participants. This was time consuming because I could only work with one participant at a time. Also having an assistant would be beneficial for providing more one-on-one time with each participant. Fortunately, the entire staff at Stepping Stones are vested in the success of each resident, and they were not only very helpful with their ideas and suggestions throughout my program, but I learned a great deal from them regarding how to better handle challenging moments. Because the staff supported me and their residents throughout my entire program, this also added to my awareness regarding what things might be of more interest to the participants.
Measuring the long-term success of my program will not be possible for a few years. As for measuring short term success, I observed drastic improvement not only in their work, but in their behavior. They began dressing up for our sessions becoming more confident behind and in front of the camera. The participant’s critique of their work and the work of others was also impressive and very respectful.
In the future, I plan to continue my work with the adjustments noted above. A few years from now I will reach out to each participant to measure the success of my program.