Saturday, July 21, 2007

Photography from a child's point of view

I've have always loved a photographer with a unique perspective. One of my favorite magazines in high school was a photography issue of Life magazine that I picked up. Though the pictures weren't taken by kids, there was a section titled something about a child's perspective. It had pictures taken from a child's eye-level--things like the close-up face of a dog, people's legs...and other things that you would probably see from a 3-ft high perspective.

I told a friend not long ago that I would really like to see what some of the younger kids' perspectives are. I think too often we try to tell kids what they "should" and "shouldn't" take pictures of, write about, try to do, etc. I know as adults we are supposed to guide children, but sometimes I think we squash their creative juices. When we let them be, they prove us wrong (as I have found out several times this week).

Friday was another one of those days. C.J. was the Photographer for the day. I wasn't around him much, but I know by the end of the day he had the camera taken away because he was thought to be taking really random pictures. Maybe he was, maybe he just seemed to be because he's C.J., or maybe he was being very intentional. Either way, when I loaded the pictures onto the computer, out of the 100 or so shots he took, only about 5-10 of them were random shots. All of the others were very good (from my photographer's eye perspective). On some, he tried new angles (see above). Most of the others, he was experimenting with up-close shots. Both of which are great photography strategies.

As a photographer, I've always been interested in people shots. I would've never thought grocery store shots would impress me. But from C.J.'s pictures on Friday and the kids' pictures at Central Market on Monday, I am extremely impressed! I may start experimenting with my own fruit and vegetable pictures myself!

Thanks for the inspiration, C.J.!

For more of C.J.'s pictures, and to see what else is going on at the After-School Academy this summer, go to The kids are posting some great stuff!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Curious minds want to know

It absolutely amazes me what comes out of kids mouths and minds when we ask them.

Each day we now have a Historian who carries around his/her journal all day and records what happens and a Photographer who is given one of our new digital cameras to record the happenings of the day.

Yesterday Kamaurja was appointed as the Historian. I saw him writing a little but I wasn't sure that he was really keeping track of anything. We had told them that the Historian would report back during group time the next day. Quite honestly, I didn't think Kamaurja had done anything but I figured if we put him in front of the group, then the other kids would see that there really was a reason for them to record stuff. Boy did Kamaurja surprise me! When I called him to the front today, he showed us the four pictures that he had drawn in his journal and explained them:

Today was Kamar's turn to be the Photographer. He was snapping pictures right and left...seemingly, at times, very pointlessly. Toward the end of the day, he proudly came up and asked if I wanted to see his pictures. As I quickly scrolled through them I figured I might as well save myself some time while I was looking at them so I deleted a few that seemed blurry or pointless. I got to three pictures in a row of this bright color. Figuring it was yet another pointless picture, I hit delete twice before he looked and said, "Look at that one! That's the light from the projector!" I think he might have even said something about it being his favorite. I sheepishly told him that I had "lost" the other two and asked if he could quickly retake them. He eagerly did so (thank goodness!).

I have no idea what made him think to point the camera straight into the projector light. Kamar wasn't sure how or why he got three different colors, but that was one of the things he liked about the pictures as well. I have to agree with him, these are the coolest pictures ever!

In fact, I think I may frame them and put them on my wall as a reminder.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Making education come alive

Why can't education be interesting?!

In elementary, high school, and college, Science and History were my two least favorite subjects.

My favorite part of high school history class was when Mr. Farmer...yes, that really was his name...would send my friend and I to opposite corners in the back of the room for talking (this happened on a regular basis). Being in the back of the room allowed us to communicate through paperwads thrown back and forth. We could do this because the entire 50 minute class was spent with his back to us, writing notes on the blackboard (in very small print) that we were supposed to copy and study. By the end of the class the entire blackboard, wall to wall, was covered in notes. It wasn't a method that really brought history alive for me.

However, once I learned about the Civil Rights Movement in college...thanks to a professor showing a piece of the documentary, Eyes on the Prize...I began understanding how the movement affected real people. Since then, I have gained a thirst for new information and I am always trying to make new connections about how history affects the decisions, laws, and practices we have today.

Science wasn't much better. Reading a science book and trying to remember all of the technical terms wasn't exactly my cup of tea. However, I do remember my mom purchasing a chemistry kit for me at a garage sale and, though I didn't exactly know what I was doing, I remember sitting outside, reading the instructions, and trying to make carmel with the little vials and burners that came with the kit. Though I never achieved edible carmel (I'm not sure the kit was meant to create edible carmel, but that was my goal), the chemistry kept me occupied for hours.

So why is education in our schools so boring?

Why is learning so disconnected from real life?!

We seem to be on a pendulum. Learning is categorized and departmentalized and single subjects are taught depending on what the political climate deems as necessary. As a result, a child in school focuses on reading OR math OR science OR history...but rarely do these subjects get applied to real life. Over the past few years, because our mandated testing has been on reading and writing, teachers and schools often leave out the other subjects. I have had more than one kid tell me that the reason they have a 100% in Social Studies on their report card is because they don't do Social Studies (the teacher just gives them a grade to fill in the blank).

Over the last several years, the colleges and businesses have noticed the downward trend in students interest in Science and Engineering. To make up for that, mandatory testing has added Science so teachers would be sure to teach it. But that doesn't mean it will be interesting. Actually, it means quite the opposite. Now teachers will have to ensure kids get certain facts down about science.

Maybe instead of "teaching" everything, subject by subject, we should focus on kids "experiencing" things. If we set up our classrooms in a way that kids could explore, create, and experience, I wonder if we'd be surprised by the way kids responded to education...and be surprised at how many subjects are covered.

This week, we start our 4-week summer program on Health and Nutrition at Turner Courts. We have field trips set up to Central Market, UTA's fitness center, Samuell Farm, and the Farmer's Market to stimulate their creativity. We have speakers who will teach about nutrition and health...some who are parents, some who are fitness instructors, some who work at places like Southwestern Medical Center. We will be teaching the kids how to blog and podcast as well.

But the most exciting part is that we have time for the kids to create. The kids will be writing on the blog (you can keep up with it at, taking pictures, interviewing people, creating a practical fitness center that could work in their own home, and creating the menus for our evening meals. The activities and projects they do will incoporate reading, writing, math, art, history, health, science, and so much more.

I admit I am a little nervous. It's hard to think outside of the traditional education box. It is a little scary to wonder what we will do and how we will guide the kids during the "unstructured" time. It puts the burden on those of us who are setting up the program to really listen to the kids and hear what they are saying so that it can inform our approach on a daily basis.

I'll keep you updated on the progress.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

We're the ones who lose out

Growing up, I never was a very outwardly emotional person. However, when I first moved to Dallas and started working at Central Dallas, everything made me emotional. I began to realize that not all kids above the age of 8 know how to read...overt and covert racism is real and takes its toll on people...schools are very different inside and out, depending on the community where you live...some people work really hard and still don't make enough money to survive. These new revelations were emotionally overwhelming my first several years here.

Sadly, I have gotten used to some of those injustices. My tears don't flow quite as often and, strangely enough, I think I have more hope now than I did back then.

However, every once in a while I start to feel myself getting emotionally overwhelmed by the situations around me. I can't say what triggers it. Something someone says or does reminds me of someone and then faces and memories pop into my head. If I'm in public, I get a lump in my throat and I struggle to blink back the tears.

This week our Urban Engagement Book Club did that to me. Randy Mayeux reviewed the book, True Notebooks. As he read the writings of the "dangerous" kids the author described working with in juvenile hall, I thought of so many of the kids I know. Kids who, on the outside, act in a way that makes them "dangerous" to most people, but on the inside are extremely insecure with a lot of self-doubt and self-hatred. For some of the kids, their insecurities can be identified and addressed; other kids are too injured to open up. Many have lost the capacity to hope.

When I got home that afternoon, as I was browsing some blogs, I noticed that my friend, Jessica, had posted a very introspective entry on Everyday Citizen that added to my emotion:

Walking into work on Monday morning was not the same. It was the same place with the same people but the atmosphere and conversation was not the same. First off let me explain that I work at the Boys and Girls club in Greenville, Tx.

Over the weekend, there had been several shootings (5) and stabbings (2) that left 3 people dead. One of the ones who were killed was an 18 year old male known to the community as KD. He attended the club in his younger years. Now the acts of violence has claimed his life as well as 2 others and has affected the life of many others. The stories behind that pretty much say that he had gotten mixed in with the wrong crowd and lifestyle.

While I was sitting there at work, I was able to see the effects that the weekend events had on the community within the club. I saw some of the kids discussing the events and I also heard my boss talking with the kids about what had happened and trying to convince them to stay on the right track in life.

After witnessing her break down in tears due to the events that had taken place, I began to think myself.

We are the Boys and Girls Club known to many as, "the positive place for kids." We operate in the summer from 7:30am til 6:00pm which means we have a time when we are closed.

What I am wondering is what could we have given young KD during his time at the club that he could have taken with him while he was away from the club that could have possibly spared his life? What can we give to our kids that are there now to help them overcome the effects of violence in the future? How can we make the community itself "a positive place for kids?"

As I can almost see some of the kids headed in the wrong direction, all I have to offer is correction for when they are wrong, knowledge for when they are confused, and a prayer for when they are away. With those things, I can only hope that they choose the right path in life and not become victims of a world of hatred.

It's a cold world which is only getting more cold, how can we protect our future (kids) from freezing to death?
Jessica has a lot of good questions that I believe we need to answer.

Though, ultimately, the KD's of the world have to make their own decision of whether or not to do something with the opportunities available to them, we have got to keep working to figure out what is missing in their lives.

I don't know KD, but I know Alonzo, Tyree, Sammy, Billy, Edward, Donnell, Keith, and so many more. Underneath all of the bravado, they have so much to offer us. We can't afford to keep missing out on their gifts.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Daily Life...Not appropriate for children

I usually get sucked into those computerized quizzes where you can answer a few questions and "find out what animal you are most like"...silly things like that. So, when my friend posted that her blog was "Rated G" and I saw the temptation to "find out what your blog is rated," I couldn't resist.

I simply typed in my blog address and...viola:

Online Dating

In my mind, I was thinking, "That was easy...and cute. Now I need to stop playing and get back to work."

I had almost closed out the screen when it dawned on me that the reason my blog was rated PG instead of G was because I had talked about death and murder.

As I reflected on that, I was remembering that the death and murder entries were probably the ones about Tyree and Sammy, young adults in our neighborhood, getting shot and killed. I then pondered a little more. Ratings are there so we can protect our children, right? At the PG level, "some material may not be suitable for children." All I write about is real life. So, really, what this rating is telling me is that the real life I live is not always suitable for children. Hmmm...

I checked some other blogs I read that are also focused on urban issues. Some were rated R, some PG based on words like "cocaine," "shoot," "gun," "hurt," "drugs," "death," and "murder."

It's one thing to rate a movie and say that kids under certain ages can't watch it or can't watch it without parental supervision. But what about when that rating applies to your life--your neighborhood, your school, your community? What do we do then?

Most people who live in the communities I speak of are not in a place--sometimes financially, sometimes mentally--to move out or to do things to make the troublemakers go away . People in low-income neighborhoods are often there because something happened along the way. Some are working toward moving out eventually. Others have been in the situation so long they don't even know how to take the steps to get out anymore.

Shouldn't our goal as a community...a to protect ALL of our youngest and most vulnerable? Shouldn't we be striving to help ALL of our communities become livable areas that are "Rated G"? ...I'm not talking about charity. I'm talking about long-term solutions like economic development, livable wages, affordable housing, etc.

Below, replace the word "BLOG" with "COMMUNITY." What are we doing so that we could post a sign outside every community that says:

Online Dating