Bringing photographer Christina Delgado to Cross Country Elementary Middle School in Baltimore City this spring for a self portrait residency was supposed to be one of the highlights of the school year. Last year, when Kristine Buls, the lead science teacher at the school, responded to a call to work with the artist, she knew the opportunity would be just right for her students. In her previous life, Ms. Buls worked as a photographer, so the thought of getting cameras into her students’ hands was irresistible. It had to happen! At the time, of course, no one imagined that by spring, working together in a classroom would not be possible.
As it did around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic sent the Cross Country students into a starkly different way of living and learning. “I was really upset when I realized we weren’t coming back to school,” said Ms. Buls. The artist residency that had been planned was special. Exelon, the energy provider and parent company of BGE, commissioned the project and would display the finished Cross Country student photographs and mixed media pieces as a permanent installation within their Chicago headquarters. It was a big deal—one that the school faculty and staff, Christina Delgado, and the students and their families had all been looking forward to.
Could the adults in our students’ lives be resourceful and creative, proactive, and flexible–not just to ensure that children’s basic needs are met, but that their whole selves are nurtured—even in times of crisis? The answer is yes. Ms. Buls said that she was met universally and enthusiastically with support. “It means so much that they’re using actual cameras instead of cell phones. It’s a very different experience and most of them haven’t had that. And the fact that we could morph this experience from in-person to virtual… I think it’s gonna be different, but I think it’s gonna be great!”
The public health crisis could have halted any dreams of working on the project, but this was an opportunity too special to let slip away. With so much already being taken from students because of COVID-19, Principal Stanfield and Young Audiences thought it was more important than ever to create this work during this unique moment in history. “This has been a big undertaking and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the efforts and guidance of Katherine Dilworth from Young Audiences and Kristine Buls—there have been many successes along with many moments of learning and adjusting,” said Christina Delgado. “This experience has played a pivotal role in my teaching/teaching artist career.”
Christina reworked her in-person lessons so that they could be delivered virtually and the school district got the students the equipment they needed to complete the project. “I was elated that through this experience, Cross Country was able to purchase 50 cameras for their school,” said the artist. “It has always been a dream of mine to leave cameras for students and teachers so that the work can continue.”
“Parents have been really, really excited about participating,” said Ms. Buls. “I think the school closures and social distancing has been really difficult on the kids. They feel special—they’re getting a camera! And I think it’s gonna be special, too, because of the time they’re doing this in. They’re recording history.”