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Seventh graders connect literature and environment in photography project

Best rural photo, Adrianna Topaha
Photography contest gives students a voice

Students in Lissa Lycan’s seventh grade English class at Montezuma-Cortez Middle School linked literature and photography to explore their environments this quarter, culminating in a photography contest.

Touching Sprit Bear, a novel by Ben Mikaelsen, is a coming-of-age story about a boy struggling to work through anger and pain in the Alaskan wilderness. The class read the novel as part of a English Language Arts unit. In an effort to connect the story’s themes and concepts with their own lives, Lycan led her students on explorations of their environment through the lenses of their cellphone cameras.

Students learned how to better compose photos taken with their cellphones and how to edit them using a cellphone app. Lycan chose cellphones for the project because they are more accessible than traditional cameras and give students more opportunities to express themselves and capture images of their environments.

While all students in the class participated in the novel reading, photography lessons and exploratory picture-taking sessions, participation in the contest was voluntary. Participating students submitted more than 100 photos. Many were taken during class sessions, but several students ventured outside school for inspiration.

Bradey Fresquez submitted photos from a hiking club outing. He said the book connected with him because he enjoys being outdoors. He also had an interest in photography before the contest and enjoyed learning more about how to take and edit photos. One of his nature photos won third place overall.

Taking a different track, Nora Moore said she focused on the people in her environment and submitted photos of her best friend, Bahati Henderson, one of which won named Best Portrait.

Photos were judged by four local professional photographers – Mark Montgomery, Bram Jenkins, Corey Robinson and Sweta Desai. Lycan said she was glad for the judges’ help. Lycan admitted her knowledge of photography was limited, but that the point of the project was more about giving students a safe space to share their environment with others. She was pleased to see how many students enjoyed the photography lessons and were willing to share their work with her and other classmates.

The winning photos were printed on canvas and will be permanently displayed at the school. Lycan said that displaying the photos “gives students a voice and shares their perspective with others.” Students were also given a small canvas print of their winning photo to take home at a seventh-grade awards night celebration May 14 that commemorated their accomplishments for the year.