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Home + City, Henry K. Oliver School, Lawrence, MA

Over the course of the 2005-2006 school year, the fourth-grade students at the Henry K. Oliver School in Lawrence, MA embarked on a Photography & Writing project. The following reveals the steps involved in the making of their pictures, writing, book, and public exhibition.

Developing the Theme

For her Photography & Writing project, Oliver School teacher Mrs. Guerrero wanted to compel her students to look, think, and write more critically about the relationships between their private/home and public/city environments. This project was sparked by Addison artist-in-residence Oscar Palacio, a contemporary artist who photographs intersections between natural and built environments and whose work was then on exhibit at the Addison. With the guidance of Palacio, Addison Education staff, and the expertise of Oliver School writer-in-residence and Bread Loaf School of English professor Michael Armstrong, Mrs. Guerrero planned a project which would engage her students in analyzing, conceptualizing, producing, and writing about photography for an entire school year.

Learning about Photography

As a first step, the students examined photographs presented by Addison Education staff in the classroom. They began by describing the visual elements they saw and then identified the subject and the photograph’s significance. Addison educators also instructed them on how to use cameras, demonstrating how to zoom in and out on subjects, avoid blurring, position the camera horizontally or vertically, and to crop and frame.

Photographing and Writing

Numerous times throughout the year, the students took turns photographing both at home and in the city, on their own and with the guidance of the class and their teachers. Photo sessions were immediately followed by “think on paper” sessions in which the students wrote independently in journals which they kept for the duration of the project.

Working with Artist-in-Residence Oscar Palacio

Back in the classroom, photographer Oscar Palacio provided the students with constructive feedback about their photographs. He helped them to critique and respond to their work and that of their peers, while leading them to see their homes and community in new ways through their photographs.

Working with Writer-in-Residence Michael Armstrong

Simultaneous to working with the Addison’s artist-in-residence Oscar Palacio, students had the opportunity to work alongside Bread Loaf School of English Professor Michael Armstrong. While the students wrote about their experiences of their own and Oscar Palacio’s photographs, Armstrong reflected on the process that students go through as they explore and make sense of the world around them.

Visiting the Addison

Mrs. Guerrero repeatedly encouraged her students not only to look, but to look again. The fourth-graders visited the Addison to view Palacio’s exhibition twice and returned to look at more photography in the museum collection later that spring. While in the galleries, the class became quickly adept at quietly focusing their writing on individual images, continuing to “think on paper” about new material.

Public Exhibition and Book-Signing

In the middle of the year, the students developed their own theme-based exhibition at Lawrence Heritage State Park, which opened with a well-attended reception and reading by the students. At year’s end, their work was again displayed during a book release and signing party at 60 Island Street in Lawrence. Local newspapers covered the events which attracted the students’ family, friends, schoolmates, school administrators, and the public.