The AjA Project: Photography Programs for San Diego Youth

Bay Area Students Present Work at City Hall

Students at College Park High School are excited to announce their upcoming photographic exhibit: Life As We Know It. Through their photographs, students examine their relationship with school at both personal and universal levels.

Senior Matthew McKinley says, ““This project taught me to go deeper with my photography and my creativity.”” His favorite ““place”” on campus is the student yearbook because working on the yearbook in his junior year gave him a sense of belonging and confidence. As a freshman, he hated school. Looking back now he is amazed at how much he changed and wishes photography and cooking classes had been available to him sooner. Matthew’’s least favorite place on campus is the Quad, which he describes as ““okay but feels superficial.””

Seniors Kara Garasky and Megan Berberich aren’’t fans of the Quad either because they feel judged and uncomfortable there. They love their photography room because ““it’’s more accepting”” and they deeply enjoy the work they do there. Kara said photographs are a good way for students to show their true feelings. ““Maybe you can’’t do anything to change the Quad, so you try to change yourself,”” she said. ““You need to build self- confidence but that’’s hard when you’’re a teen.”” Megan added: ““There is a superficial understanding by adults that kids are kids and will always say things like oh I hate school, it’’s boring. Sometimes that’’s true but there can be things underneath, like bullying and anxiety.”” Preparing for this exhibit helped Kara learn to think more deeply about her topics and realize how much she wants adults to understand her feelings. Megan improved her composition and crystallized her plans to become a professional photographer.

Life As We Know It was made possible by the California Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) grant——a statewide initiative to improve academic achievement by understanding and improving school climate. The AjA Project, based in San Diego, specializes in youth-based participatory photography programs. Under the S3 program, AjA has been working in College Park classrooms, coaching students and teachers on techniques for ““going deep”” and using photography as a tool not only to identify issues but to also envision solutions. We hope you will come share students’’ discoveries about what’’s working at College Park and what we can improve.