About a year ago, Canon and the NFL began an initiative to help children become involved in photography, donating camera and photo gear to centers across the country. Since the early 1990’s the NFL has set up Youth Education Towns (YETs) in a lower-income neighborhood of each city that has hosted a Superbowl. This year Canon and the NFL have teamed up to help educate the children at these YETs on the donated cameras and photography. Sports Illustrated staff photographer Peter Read Miller was brought in over the Summer to help put together a DVD and workbook that outlined some basic techniques and select photographers in the different markets were chosen to participate in the hands-on education of the children. After some back and forth, including a lengthy background check, I was approved to teach the children at the 2 Houston area YETs and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
I had been send a copy of the DVD (which was actually produced at the Houston area YETs) as well as a few copies of the workbook and even though I had contacted each center director and formulated a bit of my own curriculum, I was very nervous as to what was in store.
The first class took place this past Wednesday the 17th and went wonderfully. I was anxious going in, but the entire experience was great from the start. The YET was in a very active part of the neighborhood, sandwiched between a local high school, a park, and a Boys and Girls Club. The inside was decorated with NFL memorabilia and each activity room featured clean and updated equipment whether it was the media room, library or gym. The center director even gave me a tour of the YETs “media” room, which was like walking into a fully decked out recording studio. She mentioned part of the funding came from the Steve Young Foundation. Awesome.
After the grand tour, I was led to a room where I setup. My preparation for the classes included me digging through my archives, searching for sports images that I could use to help illustrate ideas or theories on photography. This also meant that I since I did not know if the center had a projector, DVD player or a computer for viewing the images, I had to prepare for a few different scenarios. When I learned that the class would be pretty small, I figured out that I could simply use my laptop to show the DVD and images to the students. There were 4 girls and 1 boy in the class, mostly teen aged kids that all had at least some experience with the cameras as well as a passion for photography. The fact that the students were engaged and willing to learn played a big part in the success of the class. The center’s director and media services coordinator also attended the class in hopes of soaking up information to pass along to those who were unable to attend.
After some introductions, I showed the class the provided DVD and then went over some basic camera fundamentals. The small class size made it easy for the students to follow along with the actual cameras in front of them. I then showed a series of my own images, using them as examples for different tips and tricks. After a few hours of instruction I took the students into the gym and let them loose to photograph a boys basketball practice. I mingled while they shot, coaching each of them along the way. For the final portion of the class, we gathered around an editing station and edited a few of the best images from the practice.
I had such a great time with the students that I volunteered to help the director and a few students at an upcoming Houston Texans game where they will be putting their skills to the test photographing the pre-game warm ups on the field!
With the first class behind me, I was ready for to tackle the second YET.
The second location was different in a lot of ways. There were a ton more children all of which seemed younger on average than the first location, which made for a very chaotic environment. After getting settled into my classroom, I was introduced to the children. Just like the actual center, my class was at least double the size of the first class and the age of the children was on average about 10-11. And just like the first YET, my entire class was girls and 1 boy. I knew I had to keep the techno-babble to a minimum and beef up my gestures and animation. It was a challenge at first, but I managed to get into the groove. Since the class was younger and the attention spans were shorter, we decided to split up the class time into two days.
The second day the students were especially excited and called me by my newly adopted name, “Mr. Todd”. I started with an overview of the tips and then let the children spend about half an hour in the center’s recreation room to put what they had learned to practice. When we came back we reviewed the material and stopped for some photos before they all took off for the weekend.
The students at both YETs got especially peppy after I told them that I would be choosing one stand-out student from each class to attend the Superbowl in Dallas in February 2011.
I have done some teaching in the past, but this experience was a lot less of a “working” experience and more of a “rewarding” experience than I initially anticipated. It was amazing working with the centers and the children and I was thoroughly inspired by all the youngsters so eager to learn. I will definitely be paying them a visit to check up on them in the near future!