D.C. Through the Eyes of Public School Kids

Turning the Page nonprofit organization brings photos taken by children to Gallery 102.

“Sneaky Kaliah,”
“Sneaky Kaliah" is a photo taken by a D.C. third grader, on display at Gallery 102.
June 30, 2014
“This is my little sister Kaliah. She is looking for my mother’s stash of candy and other goodies. She just might find it. I think it’s in the drawer.”
That’s the caption for “Sneaky Kaliah,” a photograph shot by Garfield Elementary School third-grader Syiion Robinson. Earlier this year, Syiion’s teacher put a camera in his hands and provided simple instructions: Snap a picture and write down the story behind the photo.
Nearly 300 children from six D.C. public schools were given the same assignment as part of Literacy Through Photography, a program organized by the nonprofit organization Turning The Page. The parent-engagement group worked with 14 local teachers to teach students to take photographs that tell unique stories of their families, friends and daily lives.

"Jayla" by kindergartner Jude Gayden.

The result is featured in the George Washington University’s Gallery 102. The exhibit, “Literacy Through Photography: D.C. Unfiltered,” showcases 53 selected photos from the project. Each picture reflects themes of family, community, self or dreams, and includes text written by students to encourage self-narration and literacy.  
“The exhibit is about reframing students as artists so they can envision themselves as photographers, and validating what’s in their lenses and the stories they write about,” said Josh Nomkin, an AmeriCorps VISTA at Turning the Page who helped organize the show.
The project spanned one year. Turning the Page provided cameras to teachers, who incorporated the photography assignment into their curriculum. The partner schools included Garfield Elementary School, King Elementary School, Kramer Middle School and Raymond Education Campus.
“D.C. Unfiltered” captures the nuances of students’ lives in Washington. Kindergartner Darren Johnson shot the intersection of 6th and Alabama streets in Southeast D.C. “My school is on the corner. The corner is special. The corner is busy,” he wrote in the caption. Third-grader Tayona Grant turned the flash on her little sister Peyton. “She is athletic and likes to run, race and dance. She also wants to be a cheerleader. I chose this picture because I wanted to share things about my little sister,” reads the caption description.

"The Corner" by kindgergartner Darren Johnson.

The students saw their pictures on display during an official opening for “D.C. Unfiltered” on June 4. Each young photographer was recognized for his or her piece and awarded a certificate. Visitors also had the opportunity to participate in the exhibit through interactive stations, including a photobooth where guests could fill out signs expressing what D.C. means to them.
“Literacy Through Photography: D.C. Unfiltered” will be on display at Gallery 102 until July 10. This is the second consecutive year that Turning the Page used GW’s Gallery 102 space for the exhibit. The organization hopes the GW community visits the gallery to get a sense of what happens when elementary students take the reins in telling their own stories.
“I believe that people will walk away with a sense of respect for young people and their power of self-narration,” Mr. Nomkin said.

"My Little Sister" by third grader Tayona Grant.