Program Impact: Students Empowered To Share Stories and Build Community

In fall 2020, the first year of the dynamic new 100cameras x Voice of Witness program was implemented in collaboration with M.S.50 El Puente Community School in Brooklyn and New York Center for Interpersonal Development in Staten Island.

The program provides the curriculum, equipment, and support needed to teach kids to process and tell their stories through photography and personal narrative in a way that impacts how they view themselves, builds communication and empathy skills, and empowers them to create change in their community.

The program served 60 students and included bi-weekly classes and activities led by Voice of Witness and 100cameras staff that guided participants through the process of documenting their past, present, and future in creative ways. We developed a course that educators and students at these two different sites could engage with on their own schedule, using pre-recorded lessons and external materials to support their learning.

Despite schools and teachers juggling new obstacles and uncharted territory during remote learning, they continued to champion this program and the value it brings to their school and students. As one teacher noted, “It seemed almost as though [students] had been waiting for someone to ask them to share their experiences, and I’m grateful that they were able to share through this program.”

The course culminated in the creation of a book that features student photography and student-created oral history narratives. Each participant was given a free copy. This powerful book, titled Determined: Voices and Visuals from MS 50 and NYCID, is now available for purchase! All proceeds go directly to these two New York City-based organizations serving students.

Voice of Witness will continue to center the voices and experiences of students by continuing this program in 2021, in-person in the San Francisco Bay Area.

100cameras book

Educators and Students Reflect on the Program’s Impact:

Our school’s population is mostly Dominican with many first or second-generation immigrant families, and our community was hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic and the existing inequities it exacerbated. It is very meaningful for them to begin to share parts of their lives and their stories through photography and oral history.

Throughout various lessons I have noticed that students seem eager to share their past, in some cases particularly eager to share painful experiences that I wouldn’t normally ask about during class time. Through sharing stories and in response to other prompts in the curriculum, students shared about loss, heartbreak, and change they had experienced and were in various stages of healing from.

As time has gone on, students have become more comfortable in the validity of their own experiences. It seemed almost as though they had been waiting for someone to ask them to share these experiences, and I’m grateful that they were able to share through this program.

Brittany Kaiser, Teacher at M.S.50 El Puente Community School in Brooklyn

The way I’m feeling is hopeful because others can be able to share my story or talk about my story. It feels nice to know that there may be people who want to know more about me and be a part of my story.

Julissa, Student, Age 13

I feel excited and happy. The reason I feel this way is because I have always wanted to know if people could relate to my story…and if even a piece of my story is in a picture and that picture is in someone’s house that would be amazing.

Lola, Student, Age 11

The kids were super engaged and really interested. Actually, they were more engaged than I have ever seen them. This opportunity has given us the unique chance to provide them with an experience they wouldn’t get anywhere else.

In the first lesson, looking at the pictures other children had taken was really interesting. They were amazed that the pictures were taken by people their age and I think that it helped them understand that this was something that they were absolutely capable of. They are so excited that their work is going to be in a book. I believe that this shared experience is helping the students to see themselves as a community. 

Emily Marks, Program Director, NY Center for Interpersonal Development

The Voice of Witness x 100cameras program is supported by the Charles A. Becker Foundation.

Student photo credit (left to right): Delmonico (age 13), Angel (age 12), Lola (age 11), Toni (age 13), and Toni (age 13)

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