“I want to be their voice:” High School Student Photographer on Broken Glass, Great Teachers and the

January 19, 2010 | Written By:

Broken_window“Broken Window” by Ian from Baltimore

HSC was thrilled to release a new book last week with our partners at Critical Exposure and 21st Century School Fund. The publication is based on Through Your Lens, a contest and photo exhibit we held to encourage students and teachers from around the country to photograph their schools and share the results.

A high-quality learning and working environment for
students and teachers can make a real difference in the classroom.
Every day, students suffer from asthma worsened by poor air quality in
schools, navigate unsafe and damaged buildings, and deal with the
stigma of attending a poorly maintained school. And the reverse is
certainly true as well — a well-maintained school building that exemplifies the
importance of education can inspire students and teachers to new

At the Through Your Lens exhibit opening on Capitol Hill in October 2009, Baltimore high school student Briauna Wills spoke about her own learning environment. To celebrate the release of the Through Your Lens book, we're honored to share part of Briauna's poignant speech:

I chose
to join the “Through Your Lens Exhibit” because I love my school and
teachers but I hate the building we are in. I feel imprisoned at my
school with the cages on the windows and doors, bad lighting and broken
. I am so embarrassed by my school building that I tell people I
go to Digital Harbor, a Baltimore City school with beautiful new
facilities. My school has so many horrible deficiencies like bad
ventilation, uneven heating, and faulty electrical wiring. I have
asthma and so do a lot of my friends
. Because of the lack of air
conditioning and poor ventilation we often miss a lot of class time,
especially when the seasons change.

Most of the time
we don’t have enough computers for a full class of students and we have
to share because of the electrical problems. …My freshman year my
whole class had to sit with their feet on their chairs in a certain
class because the sockets on the floor were old and had wires shooting
out from them
and my teacher didn’t want us to get shocked.

…I had a substitute
teacher recently say, “I’ve seen bad schools but a school that when you
shut the classroom door you get locked in because the knobs are broken
and the doors are this old is crazy!” Everyone laughed but I wished I
wasn’t there.

I wish we had lockers big enough to fit my binders in and
there weren’t wires hanging from the ceilings and that I didn’t have to
stress about being in danger of cutting myself on the broken glass on
the doors and windows
. I want to go to a better-looking and working
school but I love being here no matter how many problems we have,
although many students have transferred because of it. I would like to
see my school up and running like some of the new ones that have been

If my school was in better shape it would make me enjoy
coming more. Life would be easier at school if I had facilities like
Digital Harbor. I would have less worries and wouldn’t feel so down
about my school.
I understand that other schools have problems just as
much as mine and I’m sure there are people at other schools with the
same feelings so I want to be their voice and help them get the schools
we all deserve

Wills is a sophomore at the Baltimore Freedom Academy, a public school focused on social justice and activism. After she graduates from
high school, she hopes to attend Towson University to study law.

We'll be posting more photos from Through Your Lens in the weeks ahead as Congress prepares to vote on legislation to fund the repair, renovation and construction of safe, healthy school buildings.You can take action at www.throughyourlens.org to let your Senators and Representative know that our nation's school facilites matter. 

Learn more and see the Through Your Lens book here.

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