Take a picture of what you think is beautiful. That’s the task second-graders at Forsyth School were assigned as part of their social studies curriculum. While exploring seven unique neighborhoods, they were given cameras and instructed to take pictures of whatever stood out to them. The goal was to learn about the communities and their rich histories, and the project is just one way the private school in the city of St. Louis challenges students to expand their understanding of the world around them.

Second-grade teachers Anne Simmons and Julia Wilkins created the lesson to teach their students about the diverse cultures that helped build St. Louis and continue to shape it today. “We knew we wanted to visit different neighborhoods,” Wilkins says. “As great as the classroom environment is, we wanted our students to experience the cool and unique things about these little pockets of culture in our city.” The challenge, according to Simmons, was finding an activity that would engage students and transfer to various locations. Photography was the answer. “This assignment really focused their attention on things they may have overlooked initially,” Simmons says. “It was really interesting to see their perspectives. Even though they visited the same places, all of the photos were very different.”

Forsyth’s new head of school, Dan Hildebrand, says the project is a perfect example of how the school’s curriculum challenges students to push past their perceived limits and make new discoveries. The emphasis on diversity is especially impactful in preparing students for secondary school and beyond, he notes. “We continuously work to expand our students’ horizons,” he says. “When kids see that neighborhoods do not all look like theirs and learn that each one has a distinct history and culture, they become more thoughtful about the environments in which they live. We hope it sparks interest and leads to active, engaged citizenship.”

Students aren’t the only ones inspired by the project. Wilkins notes that families and other Forsyth staff have been encouraged to tour the neighborhoods because of it. “It’s nice to witness education beyond our classrooms,” she says. Simmons adds that none of this would be possible without the support of the community. “It’s a testament to our city and how welcoming it can be,” she says. “As a native St. Louisan, it’s nice to see everyone rally around a meaningful and educational initiative.”

Some of the students’ photographs are currently on display at The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries through Feb. 2, 2019. The thousands of photographs taken were narrowed down by local photographer Scott Layne, and students then chose which they wanted to include in the exhibit, St. Louis Through the Lens of a Child: Photographs by Students of Forsyth School. Simmons and Wilkins say the now third-graders were so excited when they learned about the opportunity, they practically fell out of their chairs. “They are thrilled to have their work displayed in the gallery alongside professional artists,” Simmons says, adding that the excitement isn’t limited to the students. “Forsyth and our families are grateful for the chance to share what our students are doing with the greater St. Louis community.”

Forsyth School, an independent elementary school in the city of St. Louis, serves students ages 3 through grade six. Its open house is from 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 21. Pictured on the cover: Forsyth second-graders. For more information, call 314.726.4542 or visit forsythonline.com

Cover design by Allie Bronsky
Cover photo by Whitney Curtis

Pictured above: Forsyth second-graders explore local neighborhoods through photography.