Photography employed to teach English

Miguel and Naomi and Danira, Milton and Ashley and Jaime and Brian, they all shot books. Books in the library and books in a bucket. Books as murals and books about scary things. Books are what helped them, and so that's what they photographed.

Other kids chose differently. For Jesus, it was a turtle sanctuary in the Whitney Elementary school courtyard.

Studying the turtles, he wrote, helped him learn to spell turtle.

Fernando shot pictures of his homework. Angel, a computer. Sebastian, the school playground. "Playing with my friends helps me learn English," Sebastian wrote.

All of that was on display Thursday at Nevada State College, where a group of future teachers was partnered with a group of elementary school students in a project that gave each of them something worth having.

The project, called Photovoice, had the kids, who are not native English speakers, take pictures of things in their lives that made it easier, or harder, for them to get along in an English-speaking world.

Each of the 18 children got paired up with a Nevada State College student studying to be a teacher.

Eryn Forrest, 19, took on a little girl named Jaime Oliva. Jaime, whose parents are from Mexico, shot a black and white picture of the library.

Forrest said she's wanted to be a teacher since she was a child. She was the little girl, she said, who pretended to be a teacher instead of a princess.

Working on the project helped teach her to see the world through Jaime's eyes. It's a world she had never seen before.

"It kind of humbled me because everything's not just peachy keen out there," she said.

Whitney Elementary is one of the poorest schools in Clark County. Nearly three-fourths of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and more than half are listed as having limited proficiency in English.

The children each received the promise of a $500 scholarship to Nevada State when they're ready for college.

Nevada State professor Kevin Graziano, who put the project together, said the college and the elementary school have had a long working relationship. The college students sometimes shadow Whitney teachers to get hands-on experience.

He said the project was designed to teach the college students empathy, a necessary element to being a good teacher. He's done the project before, in Los Angeles and in South Africa, he said.

"It's important for us as outsiders to understand what it's like to be a member of the insider group," he said.

College student Brittany Morgan, 20, was paired up with a first-grader named Martin Rodriguez Basso, a shy boy who has trouble opening up.

She's lived in Las Vegas most of her life and said she developed a new perspective on the students she'll soon be teaching because of the project.

Student Schuyler Fitzwater, 27, seemed angry. He said his student, a fifth grader from El Salvador, can't read very well in English or Spanish.

Fitzwater wants change. He can't imagine how a kid got all the way to fifth grade without being a decent reader.

The whole experience has been an eye-opener, he said.

Which, the professor noted, was the point.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at or 702-383-0307.