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Grant Highlight: Cunningham Camera Club

Abbey Bries is the resident "documenter" of school happenings and social media operator at Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence, in addition to her role as a literacy interventionist. She works to share all the positive and enriching experiences happening at Cunningham every day. But, this fall, Abbey felt that something was missing from sharing these happenings - a student’s voice.


This led her to apply for a grant to purchase equipment to establish a camera club with fifth graders at Cuningham. What exactly would this camera club accomplish? It would foster ownership and identity as a Waterloo Schools and Cunningham student. Students would show initiative and high levels of engagement in their building as they documented events, classroom activities, and community events with their photographic contributions to building social media. They would work together to identify what activities and events help shape Cunningham's identity and document them in a meaningful way.


The Foundation was excited to award Abbey $2,300 to establish the Cunnigham Camera Club. This project aligns with several of the values that we seek to support within the Waterloo Schools:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging: Cunningham Camera Club participants seek and create opportunities to lift the voices of the many backgrounds within the building, and do so within the lenses of their diversity.

  • Innovation: This project allows students to be innovative by using equipment to tell their own story and the community story through photography.

  • Social Emotional Learning: Participating students are developing a healthy identity by building a variety of life skills such as: learning to interact with staff to set up documentation opportunities, conducting themselves professionally and with trustworthiness, learning to care for equipment, and building the ability to identify the lens through which the school family’s story is told. 

  • Longevity: This project has the potential to become a part of Cunningham’s story for years to come, as incoming fifth-grade students get the chance to participate each year.


After purchasing equipment, students began learning photography and camera basics, such as positioning subjects, lighting, and framing a photo. Beginning with studying these basics to applying the knowledge in classrooms and at events, students needed to focus in a busy environment to capture the best content for their story.


Abbey saw a surprising amount of initiative in the participating students. Many of the requirements within the club were slightly outside of their comfort zones, especially asking a teacher they didn't know if they could spend time photographing their class, but once they got into action with the camera, it was very cool to see how they took charge of their own experiences. They walked around active classrooms to frame a shot, to direct a subject to move their arm or whether or not to look at the camera, and to suggest what they thought would make a great photo.

I think this project has helped participating students step back a little and see the community they exist within. As fifth-grade students, they are the oldest students in the building and are generally only focused on their world within their own friend groups and classroom community. This allowed them to step back and see the school as something bigger than themselves and wider than the lens of their own experience. - Abbey Bries

Not only has the club been successful within the walls of Cunningham, but students have also had opportunities to attend field trips with other grades to capture the experience. Even though these students will be transitioning to middle school next year, the club will continue each year with the incoming fifth-grade students!



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