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Syracuse elementary school students photograph their communities for Everson Museum exhibit

The Everson Museum is showing a black and white street photography exhibition by the late Helen Levitt, a photographer who was based out of New York City. The museum teamed up with Syracuse University to get students in the Syracuse City School District to display their own street photography that reflects where they live.

Zacari Dickerson, a sixth-grader at Ed Smith Elementary School in Syracuse, showed off some of his photography on display at the Everson.

“This one was like, my family loves each other and my dad’s a pastor," Dickerson said. "That one was my family is funny. First, we wrote a kind of poem and then I wanted to get those pictures and that’s around my poem like a picture book.”

Syracuse University students came to Dickerson’s class through the Photography and Literacy Project to give the kids a chance to tell the stories of their communities. The kids got to take home basic point-and-shoot cameras and document the world around them. Then, the college students went through the kids' photographs with them.

Stephen Mann, who runs the program, said it is about using the elements of photography to elicit emotions from the viewer that you want them to have.

“Even if the student doesn’t realize that that’s a good photograph, often times I can parrot with a photograph, a very famous photograph taken by a very famous, well-known photographer," Mann said. "You can’t really tell the difference between something that was done by a renowned artist and a sixth-grade kid.”

Mann said teaching kids storytelling through photography is particularly helpful with students who speak English as a second language.

"The kids learn that they don't have to be able to write in perfect, standard English to be able to have a valid voice and a valid story," Mann said.

The Everson Museum gave year memberships to all the kids that participated in the show which runs until February 28. The Helen Levitt exhibition runs until March 8.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.