Experts On Their Own Lives
Students use digital cameras to document their world
Despite such intimidating hindrances, the students appeared to thrive as they eagerly took photograph after photograph, sharing them at school as well as online via e-mails and blogs. In fact, the creation of the images often inspired students to communicate their experiences in words.
"The photographs served as the initial inspiration to engage the students in that communication process," says Pletka. "Because of their personal connection to the photographs, students wanted to write. They wanted to share and take the time to put out an essay. One kid spent long hours at night working on his essay because the writing connected to his own world in a meaningful way. Kids are the greatest experts on their own lives."
While the publication of the book has been an exciting event, Pletka says that it has been the more personal stories that have stuck with him.
"A mom told me that her son—who was heavy into the Goth culture—hadn't spoken to her in months. After participating in the program during his senior year, this student ended up going to community college, where he hadn't planned to go before. More importantly, he began talking to his mom again and sharing and connecting with the other kids as well."
Pletka hopes that this project can be an example for a different way of serving students and communities.
"I think schools are often too isolated and that we do things separate and apart from the community," he says. "We're sending our kids into the real world to become professionals, whether as writers, photographers or engineers, and we need to prepare our kids for those types of experiences.
"I'm hoping that the book will spur on other types of projects that connect students to the real world. If we provide these kids with the tools to dialogue and share, then through that sharing, we'll be able to engage our kids."