If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’m an Ohio photographer, but I’m also a full-time teacher at Westerville North High School.
Last school year, I photographed a diverse group of students for a project called, We Are Warriors.
We believe our diversity is our strength and were eager to continue this project for the 2022-23 school year! The feedback from the students and community has been nothing short of amazing.
What might’ve been the most surprising part of Season 2 was the number of students asking how they could participate. And that tells me that this labor of love was not only successful but also appreciated!
A Project of Inclusivity
Westerville North High School has a diverse student body, and we wanted to shine a light on the community.
The first priority was to accurately display the racial and cultural demographics of our school.
The second priority was to recognize and include every type of kid at the school, including special education students, students with no particular extracurricular interests, and students who achieve at all levels.
Choosing a non-biased diverse group of students took some planning and thought. Here’s how students were selected to participate!
To participate in the project, students had to be nominated by a teacher or staff member. Surveys were sent to staff members and included multiple questions and criteria for selecting nominees.
Some of the questions asked if the nominated student was part of clubs or special interest groups that are not typically recognized. We wanted to feature students who are involved in these lesser-known activities, as the main sports teams often receive plenty of coverage.
Beyond the demographic piece, we wanted to include members of the LGBTQIA+ community and spanned over all four years of the high school grades.
Since this is an ongoing project, as seniors who participated graduate, their photos will come down and be replaced with a new student’s photo. This cycle continues each year to accurately represent who we are as a school.
Logistics: How Portraits Were Taken And Displayed
After all of the students were selected for the project, I spent a day creating portraits of them individually. I brought my studio equipment to the school, including backdrops and lights, and spent about 15 minutes with each student. This allowed me to get to know them, learn about their backgrounds and interests, and try out different poses to build their confidence.
My favorite part of the project was showing the students their photos and letting them choose their favorite right there on the spot. This allowed them to have a sense of pride and agency in how they were represented in the project.
Like any high school student, most are worried about imperfections like flyaway hair and acne. This is completely normal, and I always include retouching as part of the process. However, I try to make sure that the retouching doesn't heavily alter their appearance because I want them to look like their best selves. You can read more about my retouching process in this blog post.
The Final Results
We currently have 44 poster-sized photos of each participant on display! They hang on the end cap of the lockers in the main hallway of the school.
I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school, it was common for photos to be vandalized (like mustaches drawn on people.) However, that has not been the case with the photos for this project. In fact, the photos have not been vandalized at all.
The photos are huge, have no protection on them at all - and they DON’T get vandalized.
Here’s why I think that is:
There’s enough representation in the photos that everyone has a connection to at least one student’s photo hanging up. The students don’t see this project as a corny thing the school did. They see it as something that accurately represents who we are as a school and community, and they've taken pride in the project.
The Takeaway: Representation Matters
With the We Are Warriors project, our students have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures and backgrounds. I also believe this project has fostered a sense of belonging, especially for students that otherwise felt marginalized.
I think it’s safe to say that this project will be an ongoing project, and one that I hope inspires other schools to adopt!