ICP's partnership with Friends of Island Academy provides the students with hands-on photography and writing instruction integrated with activities that develop life skills and build self-esteem. This program offers photography and digital media education to teens who have had little or no access to the photographic medium. The curriculum is collaboratively designed by staff from both organizations, and is tailored to meet the needs of the students. Themes identified by the students and staff have included health and wellness, overcoming obstacles, literacy, and self-expression. The program culminates in a celebration of the students' work that combines photography and writing.
Friends of Island Academy is a youth development center, which anchors and empowers young people newly released from jail in New York City and offers the protective factors necessary to keep them from going back.
Friends of Island Academy and the International Center of Photography
Young people involved in the criminal justice system face tremendous barriers. The majority of youth transitioning out of the system live in low-income neighborhoods disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and high rates of incarceration. Many have lost family members to drugs, violence, and AIDS. Many live in foster care, and some have children of their own. Many have experienced trauma in their lives such as physical abuse, sexual assault, neglect, and homelessness. These young people are termed “disconnected,” cut off from the factors that enable a young person to successfully transition into adulthood: positive role models, a stable family environment, and access to health care, nutritious food, and education.
The International Center of Photography’s Community Partnerships focus on collaborations with schools, community centers, and other nonprofit organizations. The goal of the programs is to teach photography as a way to foster self-esteem and community empowerment in New York City neighborhoods. These programs are designed to meet the needs and interests of each partner, integrating photographic instruction with youth development and social change.
The Portable Digital Darkroom program was created to provide digital media education to teens who have little or no access to digital technologies and photography. Classes are held at the International Center of Photography, and instructors also take digital cameras and laptop computers to the partner site (Friends of Island Academy). Participants learn how to make photographs, work with computers and software, download and edit their images, and combine photography and writing to express their ideas and tell their stories. The collaboration culminates in a celebration and presentation of the students’ work.
Friends of Island Academy was founded in 1990 to help New York City youth return to their neighborhoods successfully, exit the criminal justice system permanently, and grow into self-sufficient adults. Though a staggering 65 percent of teens released from jails or detention facilities will return to the system, intervention programs, such as Friends of Island Academy, which provide job training, counseling, education, mentoring, and youth leadership development, can help reduce the recidivism rate. Friends of Island Academy has become a national model for helping formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth get jobs, earn their diplomas and GEDs, and work to rebuild their lives.
In 2005, the International Center of Photography and Friends of Island Academy launched an annual collaboration. The program introduces young women to digital photography and encourages them to discover positive ways to express themselves. Photography and writing assignments are enhanced by discussions, field trips, and guest artist visits. The students’ photographs and text, a selection from the inaugural partnership, highlight their journey from darker to more positive and healthier times. In each triptych, the student’s commitment to self-improvement and photography is evident.
The young people at Friends of Island Academy who are transitioning out of the criminal justice system represent an overlooked and dismissed portion of the next generation. By providing comprehensive services for transitioning youth, Friends of Island Academy empowers participants to take responsibility, stay on a positive path, and become valuable, and visible, members of the community.