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Gaining Critical Exposure

Gaining Critical ExposureTwo Tufts graduates have launched a project that puts cameras in the hands of middle and high school students in order to chronicle the state of public schools.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.10.05] Heather Rieman and Adam Levner wanted to sharpen the focus on the plight of underfunded public schools – literally. So the Tufts graduates launched Critical Exposure, a program that enables students and teachers to create first-person photographic and written narratives on the state of their schools.

"We didn't want to just pan the schools," Levner told the Baltimore Sun. "But there are things that obviously need to be addressed, that speak to just how drastic the underfunding has been."

Levner and Rieman met as undergraduates at Tufts, and two years ago they began discussing the detriments of budgetary constraints in urban schools.

Levner, a former teacher and community nonprofit organizer, and Rieman, a former policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, quit their jobs to launch Critical Exposure with a pilot project in the mostly low-income public schools of Baltimore. Students were given point-and-shoot cameras and taught the basic principlesof photography.

The two Tufts graduates have raised $23,000 so far, winning support from Maryland and Washington D.C.-based foundations, including the Public Education Network, the Journal reported. Two D.C.-area lawyers have also contributed pro bono legal advice.

Levner and Rieman hope to expand the project to other locations like NewYork City.

Fifty black-and-whiteshots by the project's 60 students are currently on exhibit in an East Baltimore gallery. Among the images captured are lead-contaminated drinking fountains, dirty bathrooms, and broken windows.

But the students also captured the positive aspects of their schools on film, including a collection of college acceptance letters and portraits of favorite teachers. They have welcomed the opportunity to share their perspectives on the best and the worst in their schools.

"It's great. It gives you a way to say something without actually havingto use words," 14-tear-old Sahara Scott of East Baltimoretold the Sun.

The organizers hope their work will gain notice in high places. The National Journal reported that some Maryland politicians, including Democratic House Delegate Keith Haynes, have taken note of the issues raised in the exhibit.

"A lot of policy makers never set foot in these schools. They don't know what it's like," Rieman told the Sun.

























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