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The Arts

Photo project brings students together in trying times

‘Hello Neighbor’ art project unveiled at school

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Baldwin High School Advanced Placement Photography students recently took portraits of younger students as part of the district’s first “Hello Neighbor” art project.

Inspired by the Washington-based “Hello Neighbor” project by photojournalist and artist Julie Keefe, the district brought the same concept to Long Island but with its own students, featuring Brookside Elementary School second-graders.

The photos were blown up into 2-foot-by-3-foot posters, with each Brookside student’s hopes and dreams written across the top. The posters were then hung up along the tennis courts behind the high school, with the goal of expanding the initiative to the broader community in the future. 

The project unveiling took place on the morning of May 4 at the high school, and was attended by Brookside second-graders and their parents and guardians, A.P. Photography students from the high school, teachers involved in the project, Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi and school board trustees. 

“We are very big on integrated curriculum, and this project involved art, literacy as well as social emotional learning, and it brought students together and parents together,” Camhi said. “This is not a project that has been done before, and I enjoyed seeing the project come to fruition. It’s the beginning of an inspirational living museum.” 

With the goal of inspiring local children and the surrounding community, the posters were created using waterproof material, in the hope that they remain  intact for months to come — all for the purpose of promoting healing and optimism about the future amid the pandemic through positive affirmations and goals written on the photographs.

Keefe’s original project idea was conceived after she observed how gentrification was leaving many of her neighborhood’s children feeling estranged. As some of their friends moved away, strangers moved in. Her project invited the new neighbors to interview one another and learn about the people living in the area.

“This is what our 7-year-olds look forward to for their future, and when you listen to their hopes and dreams, it inspires what we do every day,” Camhi said. “All I can say is the thoughts of our students are the thoughts that we all have. We all hope for the end of Covid, to be happy and for our world to be a better place.”

Three second-grade classes took part in the Baldwin project, and students from the high school’s Photo 3 and 4 classes took the pictures.

“I love taking pictures, and I think taking pictures of kids is wonderful, and it’s inspiring to see the kids’ hopes and dreams memorialized, especially during a hard time like this,” said Baldwin High senior Elijah Schneider, 18, one of the honors photography students who helped with the project. “I think that being in front of a camera and talking about hopes and dreams is something we should all do. Having people look at you and see you for what your dreams are is important.”

Patricia Drexler, the Photo 3 and 4 Advanced Photography class teacher at the high school, said the project helped her students explore what they can do with photography. 

“My students got to see that photography is not something that they can just keep on their computers or phones, but photography can change lives and change people’s perspectives because it can really impact people,” Drexler said. “My students got to see that there’s so much they can do with their talent, and this was an esteem-building assignment for them. It’s very nice to help my students be noticed, and it’s great, as their teacher, to see them get the recognition they truly deserve. The project was an overall positive experience for everyone involved.”