Edgecombe students present photo exhibition

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  • The HOPE program, part of @ECPSchools_NC, has partnered with the Rural Opportunity Institute to encourage students to use their voice through photography.

  • “‘You all have to find beauty in the things around you, right?'” Crystal Lancaster teaches in the HOPE program at @ECPSchools_NC. Find out how she helps her students use photography as a creative outlet.

Members of the Edgecombe County community gathered August 18 to celebrate the photography of students from the Honor Opportunity Purpose Excellence (HOPE) alternative learning program.

The HOPE program, part of Edgecombe County Public Schools, has partnered with the Rural Opportunity Institute (ROI) to encourage students to use their voices through photography.

The program is intended for students suspended from the traditional school environment. The District and HOPE staff have been focused on finding unique ways to support these students.

“We don’t approach student supports with a one-size-fits-all mindset,” said Robert Batts, district superintendent of secondary education, “but rather an approach that focuses on individualized supports that are truly personalized for the academic, behavioral, or social needs of the student.

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Crystal Lancaster joined the HOPE program in 2016 and is now a 6th-12th grade history and English teacher. She has a heart for education and photography, and was looking for a way to channel those loves into a project for the program.

With the support of the district and the HOPE team, Lancaster launched what would become the “Glimpses of HOPE” exhibit.

“As a teacher, one of the things that is very important to me and that I try to tell my students is, ‘You all have to find beauty in the things around you, don’t you? isn’t it?’ So we live in those times, where you can take one like a tenth of a second and create an image of perfection, but that’s not the reality,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster worked with ROI to create the project. ROI helps individuals and organizations become more trauma-informed. According to co-founder Seth Seaugling, their goal is to get people “to be aware of the impact stress has on our bodies and brains, and then start implementing practices that can help us transition from a less punitive attitude to a more restorative and healing attitude.”

PhotoVoice project by HOPE students in Edgecombe County. Photo by Zimarion Staton

ROI began working with HOPE as part of their Resilient Leaders Initiative. The nine-month initiative is a social accelerator program, where partner organizations work to better understand the challenges of the people they serve. After reviewing an organization’s policies and practices, ROI further supports the organization with coaching and other resources to pilot new trauma-informed practices.

This program is led by Courtney Richardson, Strategic Initiatives Program Manager for ROI. Richardson said part of the initiative is known as “little bets.” This means that when developing new policies and practices, teams test small ways to make improvements.

HOPE staff tested several small bets, one of which became the PhotoVoice student project.

“It was an opportunity for them to boost their self-esteem and confidence, but also for them to inspire others who might come across their photos.”

Quarry Williams, Director of HOPE

The project allowed students to travel in the field and learn tangible skills with a camera as a means of self-expression. RWJF Culture of Health Fellow Jennifer Stratton provided additional support. Lancaster said Stratton not only taught students about the constructs, power, and ethics of photography, but exposed them to it “as a means of therapy and healing for themselves, their families, and the community.”

Crystal Lancaster and Zimarion Staton at the Glimpses of HOPE event in Tarboro, NC Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

To celebrate, Lancaster held a photo exhibit titled “Glimpses of HOPE”. Located at Country Feedback, a local business in Tarboro, HOPE and ROI staff and members of the community gathered to view the student artwork exhibit.

Zimarion Staton was a student who was on hand to answer questions about his photos. Although he is no longer at HOPE, he was in sixth grade when he participated in the project. Staton shared that the project helped him open up and build relationships with other students.

He said he was already familiar with cameras of different types, but thanked Lancaster for the opportunity to go on the trip and learn more about photography techniques.

When asked, “What gives you hope?” Zimarion replied

“People from HOPE.”

As a former school counselor and principal of HOPE, Quarry Williams said his passion is to see students be resilient, heal and overcome obstacles to succeed.

“The Photovoice project is more than just photos for our students. It’s an opportunity for our students to just share their voice,” Williams said. “Also, it was an opportunity for them to build their self-esteem and confidence, but also for them to inspire others who might come across their photos.”

Seeing a room full of people who came out to support the event, Lancaster said she was in disbelief that this small bet would succeed. The experience has also confirmed to her that she can make a difference as an educator.

You can see photos of the students below.

Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.

Jack C. Nugent