Wednesday, May 21, 2008

After-school class captures young hearts

Westbrook Elementary students take photo honors at county media festival

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Christine Adams, 7, takes a picture with her digital camera outside Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda on May 14.
Standing outside Westbrook Elementary School, 9-year-old Rachel Kirkpatrick had a moment of inspiration.

‘‘The brick wall!,” she blurted out, sprinting toward the school.

Kirkpatrick, a third-grader at the Bethesda school, had been searching for something with lines to take a photo of. She tried the sidewalk, but it just didn’t work. The brick wall was just right.

‘‘I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before,” she said.

Kirkpatrick and nine of her schoolmates at Westbrook just finished an eight-week, after-school photography class. Their culminating assignment May 14 was a scavenger hunt around the school.

The classes were taught by Rebecca Drobis, a photo instructor at Photoworks, a photography studio in Glen Echo Park. This was the second time the class was offered at Westbrook, following the success of a fall class.

‘‘The purpose is educational,” Drobis said, ‘‘but in equal measure it’s fun, and it cultures an enthusiasm in the arts.”

Over the course of the eight weeks, students learned about perspective and viewpoint, how to hold a camera properly, and what makes a good photo. Every week students took pictures at home, and brought them in to show their fellow classmates and Drobis.

Each student had to supply their own cameras, and all used digital cameras. Students ranged in age from second to fifth grade.

While the classes may have been just fun for the students, the photography world noticed their accomplishments and hard work. At the Montgomery County Media Festival, held at the AFI Theater in Silver Spring last month, six Westbrook students from the fall and spring classes took home first place photography awards, while another four won second place honors.

The class was the brainchild of Westbrook mom Lisa Murphy, who set up the after-school program.

‘‘This is really positive reinforcement for the kids,” she said. ‘‘The kids have the pictures they’ve taken posted up in the hall, and you hear them say, ‘I took that.’ It’s nice.”

The class cost $110 for the eight weeks.

Drobis said Photoworks usually focuses on older students in middle and high school, but that she expects the program to begin reaching out to more elementary schools. She said the program is considering expanding to other Bethesda- and Chevy Chase-area elementary schools, including Wood Acres and Somerset.

‘‘Kids will try anything,” Drobis said. ‘‘If you tell them to lie on the floor and be creative, they will. An adult in a photography class would never do that.”

Following the scavenger hunt, Drobis showed a slideshow of the students’ work to friends and family, featuring pictures of flowers, siblings and pets.

Olivia Pearcy’s favorite subject to photograph is her dog Monte, a chocolate Labrador puppy.

‘‘He does crazy things,” the 7-year-old said. ‘‘He lies down when I try to take pictures of him.”

Henry Bellew, 7, was unabashed in his opinion of the class.

‘‘I love it pretty much,” the second-grader said. ‘‘...when I took pictures when I was 6, I just took pictures of people smiling. Now that I’m 7 I take cool, abstract pictures.”

While learning about flash and perspective may have been the main tenets of the class, one more lesson also stood out for one student: Always wear the wrist strap.

‘‘I dropped my camera once, and now it doesn’t turn on,” Pearcy said, looking at her new camera, the strap firmly around her wrist. ‘‘This one, though, is shockproof.”