By Jenny Neyman
Fourth-grader Izabeau Stalkfleet Pearston says she likes taking pictures because they help preserve memories.
“Some people don’t think they need cameras because they think they can just look at something and remember it. Cameras are really good if you take a picture and print it out, that’s your memory of that time. That’s the best way to probably remember your memories because you have it, then you can just look at the picture and say, ‘Well, that’s what I did then, and that was fun,’” she said.
Looking back at her fourth-grade year at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, she’ll have a picture of her dog, Chester Copperpot, to inspire the memory of winning a photography contest sponsored by the Soldotna Rotary Club.
Jason Daniels’ fourth-grade class at K-Beach topped off a year of working with digital cameras by holding the photo contest. Students wanting to participate formed a photo club, having to sacrifice some lunchtimes to do so, and spent about a month on a photo safari to find captivating images in five categories — animals, nature, friends and family, architectural and abstract. Guest judges picked out first and second place in each category and a best-in-show entry, based on some of the concepts the students had been taught over the year, such as composition, color, sharpness and originality.
Being fourth-graders, animals was the most popular category for the young photographers, with Izabeau’s photo of her dog having some stiff competition from images of bugs, bears and birds, among others.
She took the picture, an extreme close-up of Chester’s face, while he was lying on his favorite spot on the couch, exhausted after playing with Izabeau’s other dog.
“He has so much leftover skin that his face just wrinkled up and his eyes were really droopy and I thought that would be a really good picture,” she said.
The shot, titled “Emotion,” won the animals category and best in show. Izabeau also won second in abstract. Other winners were: Rebecca Gamble, first, abstract; Annie Quinn, first, architectural; Talyn Buckley, first, nature, and second, architectural; Torri Hensley, first family and friends; Alec Levy Canedo, second, family and friend; Arianna Burcham, second, nature; and Collin Lindley, second, animals. Preston Watson, Ericka Saltenberger and Dawson Baker also participated.
Daniels said the contest was a hit and hopes to make it an annual event.
“The kids that didn’t volunteer originally were asking and begging to be in the photo contest. It must be something naturally fun for kids to take pictures,” Daniels said.
The fun part was a nice bonus of the program, but the educational aspects of working with the cameras were what drew Daniels to use them in class in the first place.
“I really love photography and technology and wanted to give the kids an opportunity to use digital cameras to help in their learning,” Daniels said. “It was a very positive experience. I certainly saw the excitement the kids had for it. It seems to be limitless, it’s up to your imagination to use them. It’s a cross-curricular type of medium that can be used in any subject.”
The cameras came from the Soldotna Rotary Club, which donated 54 digital cameras and six photo-grade printers to four Soldotna schools — K-Beach, Skyview High School, Soldotna Middle School and Redoubt Elementary School, and a large-format printer to Kenai Peninsula College’s digital arts degree program. Within the schools, teachers volunteered to put the cameras to use in particular classrooms.
At K-Beach, Daniels has found myriad uses for the cameras. Students participated in an electronic pen-pal exchange program with a school in Russia, with students taking photos of their community and school and posting them to their blog sites (an online journal, short for “Web log”). They used the cameras to create photo stories for book reports, where students took pictures of illustrations and other elements of the books they read and narrated reports through a computer program.
The class learned how to digitally edit photos, like modifying colors and skewing certain elements, and submitted their work to a national photo contest held by Adobe. Guests came and spoke to the class, including photographer Ron Levy, who is a K-Beach parent, and Joe Kashi, with Soldotna Rotary, and his wife, Therese, who helped the students design the photo contest.
“Working with Rotary really helped us to take another step forward in technology at the school, and with the district in general, since they worked with other schools,” Daniels said. “The students were able to learn more about this form of digital technology, and working with computers and blogs to incorporate their understanding of the new technologies that are out there.”
Prizes were a new Canon camera for best in show, $25 and a gift certificate for a pizza for first-place entries, $10 and a pizza certificate for second-place entries, pizza certificates for honorable mentions, and ribbons for everyone who participated.
Having a reward was a nice element of the contest, but Daniels pushed the students to be inspired by more than just the promise of cheese, figurative and literal.
“I want them to do this because of the joy of photography and the discovery,” he said.
One of the things he’s been impressed with in working with the cameras is how powerful a tool they are in engaging students in subject matter and projects in which they normally would not be interested.
“It’s good for students who don’t fit the conventional learning style,” he said. “They’re not the paper-and-pencil kids. They need to hold, touch, manipulate and move around to learn about the world around them. I noticed that those kids were drawn to this project.”
For Izabeau, this was her first time doing much photography, but now that she has her own camera from winning best in show, it won’t be her last. She plans to make many more memories, and document them with her new camera.
“I was very excited,” she said. “I’m going down to Montana. I’ll take a bunch more pictures down there.”