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As high schoolers, many teens learn they have talents they never knew they had. For six Muscatine High School Academy students, a photography project led by the University of Iowa helped them uncover their artistic skills, as well as the powerful messages they have to share with their community.
Gerta Bardhoshi and Leslie Ann Locke, two professors from the College of Education at the University of Iowa, created the program to put their research about how to help students connect to their schools and communities into action. Locke explained, “We came to Muscatine to . . . gather student experiences about school and community and to try to . . . use photos to help students explain their sense of belonging and community.”
With these goals in mind, Bardhoshi and Locke designed a six-week program. Each week, the students met with the pair to talk through a variety of discussion prompts. Based on their discussions, Bardhoshi and Locke would challenge students to take photographs related to what they discussed. At their next meeting, they would look through the photos, talk about them, tie them to new prompts, and send the students off to take more photos.
At the end of the six weeks, Bardhoshi and Locke gave students an opportunity to vote on which photos they liked best. Bardhoshi and Locke used the students’ top ten photos, along with quotations gathered from their meetings, to create a series of ten professionally printed posters. Bardhoshi and Locke then presented these posters at the University of Iowa, at various conferences both nationally and internationally, and exhibited them at Muscatine Community College.
This special opportunity for Academy students has certainly bolstered their self-confidence and ability to connect with their communities. Student participant Alex Schell described the program as, “a place to hang out and let things go. . . you had friends and people around you . . . . to spread your word about how you feel about certain things.” Lexani Rada added that he feels his poster, “turned out great because it shows my dreams and passion,” and that the program helped him create it because, “it was a good place to . . . talk about things that you love.”

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