My duties as the husband of a third-grade teacher are typically served by being tall and handy, not artistic.
Normally, my wife, Kelly, who is a teacher at Radio Park Elementary School in State College, has me come help her in the classroom during the summer. As she prepares on those hot August days, my job is climbing the ladder and hanging posters at the top of the walls, or this summer painting her cabinets. If she does need my help during the year it’s to “take a look at the the squeaky rocking chair.”
So a few months ago when she asked me to help her in the classroom, mentally I was halfway to the garage getting the ladder when I heard “and I need you to take pictures.” I was immediately intrigued and pleasantly surprised.
Kelly was doing this “Best Part of Me” project for the first time, expanding on a concept she had learned from other teachers and inspired by the book “The Best Part of Me” by photographer and educator Wendy Ewald.
The idea was to have her students choose their favorite body part and then write a poem to explain why. My part of the project was to take a picture of each child that illustrated their choice.
Kelly used this project at the beginning of the school year to support classroom community.
“I wanted to emphasize the uniqueness of each student in our classroom. Sure, we all have hands, legs and feet, but the stories connected to those parts help us to learn more about each individual student. Through the use of family pictures brought in from home we connected memories to specific parts of themselves,” she said. “For example, I shared about a time I broke my wrist while roller skating, but continued on to elaborate on all the other wonderful things my wrist lets me do: hold my daughters’ hands or take my dog for a walk. I modeled the process for my students and they just took off with it.”
I really wanted to enhance this project for the kids, but maybe more so because I wanted to impress my wife. I thought a long time about the best way to photograph this project. In the end, I took each child to the playground and one by one had them tell me their favorite part. In only a minute I had to look at each student, ask them a couple of questions and make a decision on how to illustrate it. This was very challenging but invigorating at the same time. In what ended up being only about 45 minutes, I captured something about each student that not only shows who they are but also tells a story about them.
In my experience with this project, I was impressed with how most of the children picked different things. All of them had very specific reasons for their choice. It wasn’t hard to get them to open up to me and explain why “my legs make me dance” or “my eyes see the colors of the world.”
Kelly said she also was surprised by certain aspects of this project.
“Nico, who chose his scars, wrote such an amazing poem about them,” she said. “I was so impressed that he took such pride in that part of himself. Those scars are connected to memories and he was able to make that connection.”
As a journalist I’m not often given complete artistic license with my photography, so this project was enlightening. The magnitude and depth of the students’ poems, combined with the photographs is very powerful and moving.
In fact, in helping out I think it brought out the best part of me.
And although I’m sure there will be plenty of ladder duty in my future, the next time Kelly brings a chore my way I’m hoping it includes a camera.
‘Best Part of Me’ poems by Radio Park Elementary School students
By: Morgan Roan
I like my hands because they remind me of my first time going on the monkey bars.
I do not like to wear rings but I do like picking my nails.
My mom says I have a problem with that and I guess I kind of agree.
I love the feel of my hands when they get pruney.
I also love my hands because they help me do a lot of things I love like climbing, writing, playing, basketball, drawing, and swimming.
I also use my hands to cartwheels, even though I am not the best at cart wheels.
That is why I love my beautiful hands.
I forgot — all bumps on my hands are from my brother.
By: Nico Lemay
Scars can happen any time.
When you are playing with your friends or relaxing at your house.
Scars are big and scars are small.
Some scars hurt and some scars don’t.
Scars can stay and scars can go.
I like my scar because it looks like white tiger stripes in the night.
Scars tell stories like how you got them.
My scars tell a lot about me.
I like how they look some look weird and some don’t.
I like my scars and they like me.
My Legs and Feet
By: Madison Watschke
With my legs and feet I can run and jump free!
With my legs and feet I can swim and dance to my heart.
I remember the times I went on stage and danced with my legs and feet.
My legs and feet take me to a new
adventure everyday and everynight. I can never leave my legs and feet…
I guess that’s why they’re so great!
By: Marie Meredith
I chose my feet because I like to play soccer.
My feet help me run so I can steal the ball.
I walk to school and bike a lot.
My feet do all the work.
I like to do gymnastics and run.
I use my feet when I bike, jump, walk, skip, and gallop.
I do a lot with my feet.
I like my feet.
By: Natasha Novikov
I picked my eyes because…
My eyes can see my friends.
I can see the blue sky shining on my eyes.
The green grass I go on.
My eyes are green and that is my favorite color.
I like my eyes and I will always have them.
By: Margo Wyckoff
It’s nice when the wind takes my hair for a ride.
I like when my eyes watch cars passing by.
I like my smile because it shows a great smile.
My freckles are nice I’ve had them for a while.
My face is my favorite thing.
By: Stella Colocino
Blue eyes I always get complimented on, just like my Dad.
I like my eyes because they help me see.
When it gets sunny, I protect them with sunglasses because my eyes are sensitive, just like my Mom’s.
The eyes I use to help me see when I walk my dog.
I hate when I get sunscreen in my eye, it happens all the time.
I think my favorite thing about my eyes is...they are beautiful.
By: Jace Gray
I enjoy skateboarding with my feet.
It is fun to play sports with my feet too.
It is awesome that my feet help me stand.
My feet help me skate.
I like that my feet help me climb.
That’s what my feet do.
By: Ryden Walker
I like my feet because I can run, jump, skip, kick and climb.
My Mom says my feet grow so fast.
When I was little my Dad tickled my feet and I giggled.
My Grandma loved my feet when I was little and still does.
I stick my feet in the water because it feels awesome.
By: Christina Bird
Hi my name is Christina and I like my hands.
They write what they write.
I feel grass with my hands.
I can play and have fun and I hope it goes on.
I have a sister and she likes to mess with my hands.
It bugs me.
It reminds me of the first time I went rock climbing.
Without my hands, I couldn’t do any of this stuff.
By: Ellen Jun
I like my legs and feet because they make me able to skate around.
If I didn’t have my feet or legs I also wouldn’t be able to run or walk in the zoo.
Like when I was little in the crib.
Not being able to run or walk must have been hard.
I will never forget all of the memories about my feet and legs.
By: Sam Walker
I like my arms because they are bold and strong.
I need them to pick up branches off the trees.
Without them I couldn’t write or tie my shoes.
I couldn’t color.
I couldn’t read a book.
By: Jaxson Cohen
I like my arms, arms, arms because they are hard, hard, hard.
I also like my arms because they can lift up pillows.
I do like my arms because I can swing on the monkey bars with them.
I like my arms because I can swing with them.
I like my arms because my arms can block things.
I like my big arms because I can catch a ball when I am playing dodge ball.
By: Thomas Keller
I like my arms because they hold lots of my memories.
One of my memories was when I was when I broke my arm.
It was painful, but it was a happy memory.
They really help me play sports like tennis.
They also help me do some exercises like push-ups.
Sometimes they help me play arcade games like centipede.
My arms really help do some work.
By: Devyani Wadhia
I like my hands, they’re soft and cool.
I paint my nails in the summer spring and cool.
I enjoy writing and holidays too.
It warms my heart to draw pictures like delicious food.
My hands are terrific and useful too.
I like holding Neel and hugging him too.
I do sports, type, swing on monkey bars, and put bracelets on too.
They’re pretty and skinny.
I love to clap and play!
My hands are my favorite.
They’re great to play with.
My Legs and Feet
By: Eloise Allen
I feel awesome when I do back tucks on my trampoline.
I also enjoy jumping and playing.
It’s fun to bike to school on the bike path.
I also love to walk around my neighborhood.
It’s awesome to do gymnastics and I couldn’t do that without my feet.
I’ll never forget the time I had a pedicure with my mom.
and that is why I love my legs.
By: Deja Ortiz
I chose my ears because if my Mom calls me I can hear her.
Also, I like my ears because if I did not have ears I could not hear my mom or dad or teacher call me.
I love my ears because I can hear the fire drill or if the car was going to leave I could not hear that either.
So that is why I love my ears and I hope you do too.
By: Hudson Hanawalt
I like my hair because it is the best. I have hair like my dad.
I also like my hair because it’s smooth and soft.
I have brown hair.
I don’t like long hair so I cut it every once and awhile.
When I am outside, my hair makes me sweat and it cools me down. It also blocks the sun from burning my head.