• Full FrameEducation Week's Photo Blog

    Capturing a Student Peer Group Connection Retreat

    by Swikar Patel posted May 2, 2014

    Baltimore-based photographer Matt Roth shares his experience bonding with students during an assignment to photograph a Peer Group Connection retreat at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Md.

    I spent a weekend this month at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Md., with students from two Baltimore high schools as part of a Peer Group Connection retreat. I love these kinds of assignments, where I just get to hang out and make pictures. Originally I was to spend Friday night at the camp, but, when schools are looking after teenagers, it’s probably a good policy to not invite a perfect stranger to spend the night. A bummer for me, but a smart policy, nonetheless.

    A bed without a mattress operates as a snack table. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    A bed without a mattress operates as a snack table for high school students partaking in a Peer Group Connection Retreat at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Md. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    Students from ACCE and MERVO High Schools hangout before bedtime in one of the bunk rooms during a Peer Group Connection weekend retreat at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Maryland. Boys and girls slept in separate bunks. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    Boys and girls from the Academy for College and Career Exploration and Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical Senior High Schools in Baltimore hang out before lights out in one of the bunk rooms before heading to their separate quarters during a Peer Group Connection weekend. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    And as long as we’re talking about bummers — THE FRIDAY NIGHT BONFIRE WAS CANCELLED!!! stupid rain. The weather certainly didn’t deter the kids from trying to start a game of hide-and-seek, or playing basketball. There were a lot of outdoor activities during the few hours of free time before “lights out” at 11. The later it got, the bunk rooms in the lodges became the social hubs.

    Students from ACCE and MERVO break out in dance in the middle of one of Camp Letts fields during the free hours before "lights out." Students from the two schools participated in a Peer Group Connection weekend retreat at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Maryland. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    Students from two Baltimore high schools break out in dance in the middle of a field at Camp Letts during the free hours before “lights out.” Students were participating in a Peer Group Connection weekend retreat at the camp in Edgewater, Md. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    During some free time a few students walk the rocks next to the water while attending the Peer Group Connection weekend retreat at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Maryland. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    Students spend some free time by the water. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    Friday night just after I arrived an impromptu dance session broke out!!! It was amazing! They made a melody with a piano and chanting and they banged on the walls and clapped for rhythm.

    Tony Manly, from ACCE High School, sits in a canoe while Kierra Gibson, from MERVO High School, coaxes Tristan Smith, form ACCE, to continue searching for scavenger hunt items.  --Matt Roth for Education Week

    Tony Manly, from ACCE High School, sits in a canoe while Kierra Gibson, from MERVO High School, coaxes Tristan Smith, from ACCE, to continue searching for scavenger hunt items. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    Most of the people in the groups seem to be on really good terms. I’m not sure whether the students were close friends, but they’re a tight-knit, highly functioning peer group.

    DeMetris Henry, from ACCE High School in Baltimore, searches for items on his scavenger hunt list. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    DeMetris Henry, from ACCE High School in Baltimore, searches for items on his scavenger hunt list. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    All that unstructured hang-out time was great for me because it gave me time to get to know these kids a bit better and allow them to get comfortable with me making pictures. They weren’t shy. They warmed up to me pretty quickly. Probably the hardest part of my interactions was explaining what Education Week is. “It’s the newspaper your principal and teachers read.” They’d look at me blankly, then strike a pose and say “Hey. Take my picture!” Ha! Y’know. I used to fight those demands. I still do a little, but I kind of  love those photos. It’s subtle, but their personalities show in those poses. Also, it’s a good intro to get to know some of these kids better, too. Plus I get the opportunity to tell them that I’m looking for candid moments. They’re smart kids. They understood what I was going for. And I got amazing access!  — especially when it was their turn on the Color Wheel and their peers are being maybe a little too honest.

    Students from ACCE and MERVO High Schools participate in a Peer Group Connection weekend retreat at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Maryland. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    Students from ACCE and MERVO High Schools participate in a Peer Group Connection weekend retreat at Camp Letts. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    Let me back up. The Color Wheel is a peer mediation exercise. I think it’s fascinating! Everyone in the group gets a worksheet, and on the worksheet is a circle of smaller circles. Each small circle represents one person in the group. The idea is to use colors as a conduit for describing how people in the group feel about each other. The colors have meaning. And when a person’s name is called, he or she has to sit there quietly and listen to why peers chose those colors and how they are viewed. The descriptions can be flattering, vague, overly polite, and pretty harsh. No comments. No justifications. No clarifications. …and I suppose “thank yous” aren’t allowed either. They just have to listen.

    Students from ACCE High School draw their "Color Wheels" before starting a group affirmation exercise. --Matt Roth for Education Week

    Students from ACCE High School draw their “Color Wheels” before starting a group affirmation exercise. –Matt Roth for Education Week

    Some kids received mostly compliments, and, of course, they smiled a lot. Others got an earful. It was really interesting to watch those kids’ body language change. You could see the wheels turning in their brains. Their defenses would go up, they’d become incredulous, melancholy would creep in. I could tell they were hurt. By the end, the wind was knocked out of their sails. I think the people who were hit the hardest during the  exercise might have been perceived to have the toughest exterior. But, to the group’s credit, there was no lambasting. Most of the harsh spins on the color wheel were constructive, with compliments sprinkled in.

    About:

    Jumping On My Hotel Room Bed

    Matt Roth may or may not be a super hero, but he is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Baltimore. To see more of Matt’s work follow the link. http://mattrothphoto.com

    Tagged with: