“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,” Barack Obama, October 2015

Countless studies have proven that poverty has a huge impact on academic success. Effective educators understand school and curriculum need to consider the challenges students face growing up in low-income neighborhoods. students cannot be expected to leave everything that is going on at home and in their community at the door when they come into school.

Some forward thinking schools and administrations are addressing the issue of poverty in their institutions through health clinics and job services. Poverty impedes learning and puts students in underserved areas at an educational disadvantage. “Where I Live” addresses those issues with students directly and encourages them to see themselves as agents of change while improving their ability to do so through writing and photography.

In 2000, Tracey Noelle Luz initiated “Where I Live,” the first literacy-through-photography program in Newark Public Schools at Thirteenth Avenue School.  Guided by the philosophy of  Wendy Ewald (“I Wanna Take Me a Picture”) and Augusto Baol (“Theater of the Oppressed”) Luz developed a curriculum designed to improve writing skills through visual literacy, allowing her 5th grade students to articulate their feelings and responses growing up in a community rife with gang violence, poverty and drug abuse.

After an introductory course in photography, Luz brought the students into the streets where to photograph in their community. The composition of a photograph allowed the students to think about what they wanted to say how they wanted to say it. Students experimented with different approaches and conducted critique sessions of their work. Their final photos became the center piece for a writing component that gave students the opportunity to consider and express how they were going to change their community.

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Over the next 8 years, Luz built an 8 station dark room that evolved into a digital printing lab. Each year, students mastered poetry, prose, expository and instructional text. Students became aware of their agency, a crucial component to meaningful instruction. Expressing themselves not only validated who they were and how they could determine their own liberation, but they developed a strong connection to writing because they were experiencing the power of their own voices . As a result, test scores increased without sacrificing a human connection to learning.

“During the time the photography program was in operation, sixth grade tests scores on the NJ standardized test at the time between 2002 and 2007 rose from a dismal 23% to 92% in a two year period and stayed constant at the 85% to 95% from 2004 to 2007. What was very encouraging, as the sixth grade students proceeded to grade 7 and 8, scores were maintained between 85% and 95% in those grades.” – Leonard Kopacz, Principal, 13th Avenue School, 2001 – 2007

“Where I Live” as a 8-week course for grades 6 through 12, including 2 staff development workshops to inspire staff to customize the literacy through photography curriculum or develop their own. Schools have the options of “add-ons” to build a program that is best tailored to their needs. Additionally, Luz is available to meet with staff to discuss modifications to fit the needs of specific schools. Please contact her directly to find out what equipment is required by your school.

Where I Live: Student Engagement

Offered either twice a week for 4 weeks or once a week for 8 weeks. Each student session is two hours long, please adjust scheduling with students accordingly.


History of Photography 101: Students learn the history of documentary photography, focusing on documentary photographers who had a direct impact in their field artistically or socially.

Using Your Camera: Students are brought through the basics of how a camera functions. Students will learn about aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, ISO and focal length.

Elements of Composition: What makes a good photograph? Students study and critique a variety of photographer’s work and discuss how the composition influences the message.

In the Field: Students photograph their community. Parents and teachers welcome to accompany us! This section of the work shop takes up the majority of the workshop but is the most engaging. Students are introduced to the principals of media management and learn to download and archive their work, and engage in critique sessions to improve their “eye”.

Writing Workshop: Students don’t merely explain their photograph, but use the photograph to identify the issue in their community they would like to respond to and write an expository text describing it. The writing can be general or specific, but the photograph is the impetus. Students share their work and critique each other, learning the value of encouragement.

Presentation: Developed with the teacher and students, Luz assists creating a presentation of the final work for the school and community.

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Staff Development:

“Where I Live” Intensive: Creating a Community-based Curriculum: What is meaningful instruction? How do students become engaged in their own learning? How can education truly make a difference? Utilizing the experience of “Where I Live”, teachers design their own curriculum to implement in their classrooms. 4 hours.

Crowd Funding, Grant Writing and Fundraising: Too often, teachers are forced to spend money to make their classrooms effective. Creating innovative curriculum takes money that teachers should not have to spend out of their own pocket. This work shop focuses on the myriad of ways educators can raise money to fund innovative projects in the classroom. Teachers will learn the how to write a grant, how to run a campaign on kick-starter and other ways to fund raise. 4 hours.

Additional Workshops for students to further their interest and learning. 

Photography as a career: What are the different ways you can make a living being a photographer? How can you get started? Students learn about different avenues and actively participate in portrait, fashion, brand, documentary and wedding photography, and the rigor of becoming a full time, successful photographer. (5 hours)

Using Social Media to advertise your business (High School Only) Students learn to reach outside their social circles to make a name for themselves as photographers navigating through FaceBook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr. Students learn about copyright law and how to protect their work. (3 hours)

For more information, email Tracey at traceynoelleluz@gmail.com.

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