Clayton Ridge, Central, Ed-Co, North Fayette Valley, Starmont and West Central schools teamed up on a $2,000 McElroy grant through Keystone AEA to create a book called Connecting/Communities: The People and Places of Northeast Iowa. Professional photographers worked with six area school teachers and their students to document the area with stories and photos taken by students. A professional graphic designer put their work on the pages of the book, which is now available at the Guttenberg Public Library and for sale around the area.
“My hope for the Connecting Communities book is that it shows the community more about the surrounding towns and encourages community members to go explore and experience it for themselves. These small towns are full of hidden treasures that are revealed in this book,” said 2017 Clayton Ridge graduate Cora Lawrence.
Teachers and students from participating schools met with photographer Robert Campagna at Keystone AEA in Elkader to learn about photojournalism – how to photograph the area, interview locals and write articles. “The next day, we traveled through various towns using what we learned in the workshop and applying it to real life,” said Lawrence. Students from the six schools returned to their hometowns to put their new knowledge of photojournalism to use.
Students submitted three photos and articles relating to the photos; collaborators reviewed the submissions and chose which would be printed. The book is split into seven chapters, each focusing on a different theme. Lawrence’s work appears in the Strangely/familiar section of the book.
“I chose to photograph things for the book that were relevant in my life and located in my community,” Lawrence explained. “My entry on the Picket Fence Café was personal because I work there and knew the role it played in the community. I chose the photo of the owner and the photo of the pie because when I think of the Picket Fence I think of these things. These things are what represent the shop and what I want others to see it as.” Lawrence also photographed River Park Place and the Mississippi River for the book.
Clayton Ridge art instructor Angela Cook submitted her own photograph of a grey tree frog with an accompanying poem. “Photos and stories range from McGregor to Elkader to Strawberry to Edgewood to Manchester,” said Cook of the publication.
“In an art classroom, we constantly encourage connections: connections between time periods, cultures, subjects, thinking processes and people. This project brings those connections even more alive through the real world application of interacting with neighboring high school students, diving into local communities, researching and writing about their images and producing a book from start to finish with the intention of selling those books in our communities,” teachers wrote in their grant application.
Collaboration is a key word in schools today. Teachers are asked to collaborate so that students can start to navigate the very interconnected world in which they live. Students are asked to work together with the intention of making everyone stronger by capitalizing on each member’s strengths.
“Our connections, however, seem to fall short when we start going beyond our own walls. We miss connections to our communities. We miss connecting our students from different schools,” wrote the teachers. “This project is exemplary because we can start building new connections. Our kids will hopefully realize that they are more like other students at neighboring schools than different. Our students will also hope to embrace more of their own communities including an extended range around their immediate surroundings through the research and writing about each of their images, not to mention the actual act of taking the photos in our environments.”
Photo by Cora Lawrence.