case study

Beyond The Selfie

Program Development
Creating and launching an after-school photography and writing program for elementary school students
Photography by Rebecca Droke
Propel Schools
Program Developer & Teaching Artist
Photography Education
Program Development
Lesson Planning

Project Overview

When my editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette expressed an interest in doing a community outreach project in 2015, I replied, “I have an idea for that.” Inspired by the work of documentary photographer Wendy Ewald, I suggested modeling a program after her “Literacy Through Photography” framework. 

What had drawn me to Ewald’s work was her approach to blending photography and writing to inspire students to tell stories about themselves and their families, communities and dreams. These days most kids know how to use smart devices and take selfies, and I wanted to offer students an opportunity to go beyond the selfie to learn the principles of photography and storytelling in a workshop-type setting.

A smiling Asian girl lays on the asphalt ground with her hands, palms upwards, covering her eyes
Jericha, a third-grader, chose where to be photographed and then wrote about her portrait, “I like laying on the ground and the ground feels rough. And I like to lay on the ground and it makes me feel happy and calm."

Program Development

With my idea, I applied and was accepted into a six-month arts fellowship through New Sun Rising, “an organization empowering creative projects in the Pittsburgh region through fiscal sponsorship, mentoring and community building,” to develop my idea into an actionable program. Through weekly meetings in a cohort of ten people, we worked with a mentor who guided us through the steps needed to launch an arts program, including researching and developing:

  • Purpose and mission statements
  • Identifying an audience
  • Problems and needs 
  • Value and impact
  • Cost structure and financial sustainability

Through networking, I successfully pitched my idea to the organizer of after-school arts programs at Propel Schools, a local charter school system in the region.

Third-grade students learn about perspective.

Pilot Project

I participated in a one-day Literacy Through Photography (LTP) workshop offered by FotoFest, Inc., a Houston-based community arts organization. This workshop gave me a framework for developing weekly lesson plans for the students I was working with at Propel. 

I created weekly lesson plans that introduced photography concepts through viewing professional and student images and scavenger hunts throughout the school. Students were given physical prints of photos they made to add to their writing journals.

Photos taken by students on scavenger hunts to identify and photography shapes, colors and lines. They then learned about framing, perspective and motion.

Challenges & Takeaway

During the fellowship, I learned the process for developing a well-researched and thorough plan for implementing an arts program and gained confidence in networking and pitching that program. As a teaching artist, working with young students for the first time, I sought support from experienced educators about classroom management. I worked with school staff and a fellowship cohort member with extensive teaching artist experience to get ideas for activities that would help focus the kids. I took time after each class to reflect on what was successful and what needed to be adapted, which helped me with future lesson planning.

The students’ photography and writing were included in Propel Schools’ Afterschool Showcase, a one-day exhibit held at the Mattress Factory gallery in June 2016. Their work was also published on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s photo department blog, “In Focus.” I continued this project for another two semesters, adapting the program for older elementary, middle and high school students.

More Case Studies

view raw