Storytelling and Identity: Photography Workshops for High School Students

A Peacemaking Project by Elle E.

What is the injustice we are solving?

Injustice: Reclaiming narrative control for communities whose stories are told for them rather than by them. With this project I propose to use photography as a platform for individuals and communities to reclaim narrative control. I would like to set up photography workshops at a high school in Boston (Burke High School in Dorchester, a school I worked at last year) and meet once a week after school with students. During these workshops we would work on building the students' photography skills while exploring photography as a tool for telling their stories. The longterm aim of the workshops would be to provide a space for students to reclaim narrative control of their own lives, identities, and stories, and to provide them with the tools for doing so.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of unbalanced power and racism in Boston communities
we will address the issue of who has narrative control
by organizing photography workshops for high school students in BPS in order to build skills in visual storytelling.

Our Project Plan:


  • Reach out to the Burke High School to confirm if I can be an after-school partner to engage students in this project.
  • Develop a curriculum for the school year.
  • Find a location where students can develop their film themselves. Figure out after-school transportation.
  • Reach out to local businesses to donate camera supplies by February 28th.
  • Provide students with the supplies to complete these projects: film cameras, film, photo paper, etc.
  • Go to the Burke after-school once a week to engage students in 1-1.5 hour long workshops in camera fluency, project assignments, and studies of how photography can be a tool for social justice.
  • Help students develop a sense of self-empowerment and self-efficacy through photography!

We will increase my / our compassion by...

I think the proximity to students and the mission of increasing spaces for narrative control would increase my compassion because it would keep me connected to issues and people I care deeply about.

How will you show courage?

I will show courage by staying committed to the goals and mission of this project, even if difficulties arise or the planned path of the workshops changes throughout the year.

How will you collaborate with others?

I will collaborate with the students, administrators at the school, and other community partners to ensure that I have the resources necessary to build this program and that students are getting the most out of this experience.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

I'll know that I'm moving in the right direction if students are really engaged in the photography assignments and projects and are excited to tell their stories through this platform.

Key Steps

  • Meet with a current service partner at the Burke High School to figure out logistics of being an after-school partner.
  • Reach out to administrators at the Burke High School by March 30th to confirm if I can be an after-school partner to engage students in this project.
  • Develop a curriculum for the school year by February 28th.
  • Apply for a mini-grant.
  • Figure out cost of supplies by February 9th.
  • Reach out to local businesses and larger corporations to request donations of cameras, equipment, and film supplies by February 9th.


How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

After doing the workshop for a few months at the high school, I definitely have a deeper understanding of some of the structural challenges at play in the students' lives. It was challenging getting the workshops off the ground for a variety of reasons, and then figuring out a way to have consistent meetings with a consistent group of students was more difficult than I expected. This is definitely due to a variety of factors, but especially due to things that were frequently shifting in the students' own lives. Because of this, it was hard to get our projects really moving until things felt more concrete. Once we did meet more regularly, getting the students to think about stories, and particularly their own stories, as spaces for negotiating/confronting issues of power took some time, and is something we are still working on developing.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

This is definitely something that will become more clear towards the end of this project, but I'm beginning to see some of the students become more confident about who they are and where they come from, and how they can use their photography to express that. Students have been really excited to do the photography projects and introspective identity prompts we've done so far, and I think a few of them see this as something they can extend to other areas of their lives. I'm hoping to see all of the students challenging existing narratives through their art as the year goes on.

How many people were impacted by your project?


Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

Due to the number of supplies I have been able to purchase, I had enough resources for 6 students to join the photography workshop.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

This project has sharpened my understanding of the barriers that exist in the students' daily lives, and how many of these come back to issues of structural power. I've learned from the logistical challenges I've encountered trying to coordinate a lot of moving pieces and people, as well as from talking to the students and hearing them express for themselves their experiences within their identities.

What did your team learn?

I learned how the students see themselves, and to what degree they feel comfortable articulating their experiences. I have a much clearer understanding of what tools and opportunities they've previously had for exploring their identities, and how much more I want to do within this project to increase those opportunities.

What challenges did your team overcome?

I moved past logistical challenges of trying to coordinate between the school, teachers at the school, the students, and photography professors at a local university to finally achieve something consistent. I am still encountering challenges with funding, because there are more tools students will need as the workshop continues that I currently don't have the means to buy.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

I have involved friends and family in raising the funds and resources necessary for more students to participate, and I have involved teachers and administrators at the school to help me coordinate the weekly logistics of the program. I have also reached out to the photography department at MassArt to coordinate the students using their dark room and supplies once a month. I recently connected with a photographer in the Dorchester neighborhood to occasionally come to the school to facilitate workshops with me, and this will hopefully begin in the new semester.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

I would encourage someone starting a peacemaking project to reach out to the communities they want to work with to be a part of the planning and implementation of the project, and not to take on too much of the project alone.

Our Updates:

Photo Workshop Program Booklet

Elle E. 13 September 2018 11:50 I recently created this program booklet to distribute to the students participating in the workshop. This booklet is meant to introduce and frame the program to the students, giving a sense of what to expect from the year! View it here:


Bobby J.
9 March 2018 12:29

Hi Elle, this is Bobby and I work with Fish at Peace First. I love this project as well. Fish provided some great feedback. I would also add another key part of narrative control is having the power to share our story directly with others. So, with that said, I hope that helping young people to leverage the power of social media and public spaces to tell their stories is part of your work. If you need support in that area, Peace First can help connect you with some social media experts and we would also be happy to help share some of your images and stories through our network. Keep us posted on where and how we can help.  

Fish S. Peace First Staff
9 March 2018 10:26

Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below.

This project is amazing! Elle, I love your deep thinking about the link between storytelling and justice, and the demonstrated power of photography as a medium for this! I love your goals for the skills you want to empower your students with, and the way collaboration is baked deeply into your project. And I love the level of thought and detail your list of key steps shows! Simply put - I think your insight is strong, your plan is rock-solid, and your compassion is clear. Couldn't be more excited to see the outcome!

Ways to strengthen:
Again, this is a very strong project -- I just have three suggestions.

1. I think you could do more to clarify the link between narrative control and power/racism. Not because I don't understand or agree with your theory -- I'm really excited about it -- but because I think other young people on the site will really benefit from seeing you explain the link between claiming narrative control and building power. (Your students will also benefit from having this explained directly -- so any practice you can get breaking it down in an accessible way will be helpful!)

2. I encourage you to think about developing some formal tools to measure students' self-empowerment and self-efficacy! I have no doubt that your workshops will build these skills in students -- but you'll want to be able to prove it! We can help with this.

3. I hope you'll have your students post their art on the platform, if they're willing -- we would love to see it!

Congratulations and best of luck with your project! Let us know how we can help.  

RaulPF C.
1 March 2018 11:09

Good morning, Elle!
Thanks for your update. I really look forward to hearing how those discussions with the principal go and then hearing how the program goes once you can run it!

Elle E.
27 February 2018 8:20

Thank you! Yes, I worked with freshmen at this school last year and am at a different school in the district this year. I'm hoping to reach out to the principal in early April to figure out logistics about running this program!  

RaulPF C.
9 February 2018 9:11

Hi Elle,
I am part of the Peace First team and I wanted to provide you with some feedback related to your project insight.
I really, really like the way that you are trying to address a root cause that is overlooked a lot of the time. Do you already have connections with the schools you want to start running the workshops with?
I would love to see how your project evolves!

Fish S. Peace First Staff
11 December 2017 10:16

Hey Elle -- love these project goals. Anything we can do to help?  

Elle E.
1 December 2017 14:40

I'm hoping to do it through the course of a school year, so an hour once a week for 30~ weeks!  

Fish S. Peace First Staff
29 November 2017 9:21

Hi Elle, sounds awesome. Love that you're starting with what you know. We'd be happy to help you plan out the curriculum. How long/how many sessions do you think it will last?  

Elle E.
27 November 2017 14:12

I don't currently have a curriculum planned, but I was a part of a similar photography course in high school and I was thinking about following what I did then as a baseline. I want to start by building a skillset and reviewing photography basics, and then build with photography as a platform for social justice and how they can use it as a tool. I would definitely love receiving help with planning that curriculum though!  

Fish S. Peace First Staff
21 November 2017 15:29

Hi Elle -- sounds like an awesome project. Love the idea of giving students narrative control by helping them develop storytelling skills through photography. Do you have a curriculum you plan to follow? Can we help with that?

We're ready to support your project however we can -- including through mini-grants of up to $250! -- so let us know where you need help.