Picturing the Common Core
Education Week: Tell us more about this project?
Jared: The goal of this project was to look at the impact of the newly implemented common-core curriculum in the District of Columbia public schools through the eyes of faculty and students, as well as school administrators. Much of my time was spent following the day-to-day life at Stuart Hobson Middle School, a stone’s throw from Union Station and Capitol Hill. Dowan McNair Lee’s 8th grade English/language arts class was the hub for all my visits. I would sit in on class, focus on how she was coping with these new standards of learning, and watch how 8th grader Mikel Robinson was dealing with this new approach. I also spent time with Sarah Hawley, the instructional coach, who is tasked with teaching teachers on effective methods for implementing common core. I also followed then-Assistant Principal Katie Franklin and Principal Dawn Clemens as they met with teachers about the process. The approach I used for the project was to act as if I was doing a miniprofile about each subject; sum of the parts will equal the whole.
Education Week: Common core is hard to translate visually. Can you talk about your approach?
Jared: I wasn’t familiar with common core, so I started reading news stories and doing background research to make sure I had an idea of what was going on. This research helped me think about situations that might speak to challenges and emotions related to the transition in the curriculum. Once I started working with the subjects, I was able to ask questions and their answers helped lead me to other potential situations to explore. Charlie Borst, [Education Week’s director of photography] was also very good about brainstorming ideas and talking through scenes that might work to illustrate an aspect of the story.
Education Week: How did you build your relationship with Mikel and Dowan?
Jared: Relationships are crucial for any type of longer-term reporting project. Before I even think about grabbing the camera out of the bag, I always arrange a meeting with a subject to talk about the story and to learn more about what they do and who they are outside of their job. This helps me figure out potential situations that might be interesting to explore and it gives the subject a chance to ask me questions too. Dowan and I met last February after school in her classroom, we talked and I showed her some recent assignments to give her an idea of the approach I’d be taking with this project. She actually recognized a couple people in the photographs and she understood what I was trying to do with this project. That is the best-case scenario. With Mikel, building rapport was a challenge. When I was a 13 year old I didn’t like talking to people, much less people that I didn’t know. Mikel shared these feelings too. Basketball player Kevin Durant, rapper Wale, and sneakers are how Mikel and I were able to connect. Little did I know that my taste in sports, music and fashion were similar to that of a 8th grader. Once we figured out that we had shared interests, he started to get more comfortable with me.
Education Week: Were there any other challenges you overcame?
Jared: My experience with photography and schools is that there is always some sort of restriction. When I began talking with Charlie about this project, my first question was about access. Would we have enough access to make photographs that revealed the personalities and feelings of those involved with the issues? DCPS was very accommodating and much of that had to do with reporter Catherine Gewertz’s relationship with the public affairs office. That helped open the door for great access to Stuart Hobson Middle School. Before I started working on the project, I met with faculty to give them an idea about the photography component of the series. The only challenge was explaining that I would be making multiple visits over the course of semester. After a handful of visits, I became old news and was able to blend into the background.
Education Week: Can you to expand on the importance of photographs that reveal something about a character and why that is so important in communicating the story?
Jared: My favorite stories give the reader a chance to connect with the subject on a personal level. With this series, I felt it was important to mix in images that revealed bits of their personality. As a photographer, I want you to listen to what I’m saying with my photographs and sometimes I have to use certain methods to get you to listen. A collection of classroom photographs would be redundant and their impact as a whole would be stymied. However, if I’m able to mix in images that speak to who the person is and what they are feeling, then they no longer just “teacher” or “student,” their portrait becomes robust and the reader is able to find a connection and invest in their story.
Education Week: How long did you work on this project?
Jared: Charlie approached me about this project in late January and a week later I was inside a classroom at Stuart Hobson Middle School, meeting with Dowan McNair Lee, the 8th grade teacher, to explain how the photographic process would work for the series. I spent the majority of the second semester, working on this project, which stretched from February to June with a follow up in September.
Based in Washington, D.C., Jared Soares explores the intersection of identity and community in contemporary American life. When not making photographs, he can be found playing with his pet terrier, making a mind-blowing mixtape, or hiking on the Glover-Archbold Trail.
To see more of Jared’s work visit his portfolio at http://www.jaredsoares.com