Hometown Art: Project challenges high school students to create photo books

By Andrew Mark Abernathy/University of Mississippi

OXFORD – With cameras in hand, 22 Mississippi high school students and eight teachers are discovering that art exists everywhere, even in the smallest communities.
The Wide Angle Learning project, which allows high school students to plan and create original art projects, is in its second year. The project is coordinated through the Mississippi Teacher Corps, or MTC, at the University of Mississippi and sponsored by the Southern Education Foundation.
Eight student groups from six schools took on this year’s challenge of creating photo books that examine some aspect of their communities and the people within them.
“The program lets students use many skill sets,” said Ben Guest, MTC program manager. “Photography is an art form. The layout is a design skill. How you edit and arrange the photos is a technical skill and interviewing people is a multifaceted skill. Bringing these skills into one long-term project is what education should really be.”
The students have met periodically in Oxford throughout the school year to learn photography skills and discuss their projects. Participants were encouraged to view their communities through an artistic lens – appreciating elements in their communities that tell a story. UM College of Liberal Arts academic mentor Sharon Levine, an MTC alumna, served as a photography coach for the students.
“I’ve been the professional development arm of the project this year,” explained Levine, who mentored her own group through a photo book last year when she was an English teacher at North Panola High School. “It was huge that we were able to give them hands-on training. This year, you could hear they were learning in the way they talked … ‘rule of thirds,’ ‘excellent lighting.’ They started talking about photography like real photographers.”
Byhalia High School teacher Stacy Filocco and her two students, LaTonya Norman and Kiana McCray, spent the school year creating a photo book that addresses a sense of family in Byhalia. The 85-page book contains nearly 200 shots of the small town. “Byhalia: A Family” is printing this month.
“My students came up with a theme of family and how that works in Byhalia,” Filocco said. “After the first meeting, we spent a lot of time talking about community. The girls found out really quickly that people in their community have strong family bonds.
“It was also great that they got to meet students from other parts of the state. They hit it off with a group from Jackson, so we took a field trip.”
The students will present the books to parents, teachers, administrators and community members at 1 p.m. April 14 in the Guyton Hall Annex on the Ole Miss campus.
High schools participating in the program include Byhalia High School in Byhalia, Forest Hill High School in Jackson, H.W. Byers High School in Marshall County, North Panola High School in Sardis, Simmons High School in Hollandale and St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison.