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English learners gain confidence using photography

Buffalo schools are using writing and photography to help some students with their work, especially those who are learning English as a second language.

One program is called Writing with Light, a joint project between Just Buffalo Literary Center and CEPA Gallery, which lets students work with words, poetry and photographs to tell stories. Some of the pictures were put on display in CEPA's gallery.

Education Director Noah Falck is a former ELA teacher in Dayton, Ohio before coming to Buffalo. Falck told the school board the program involves many schools and teachers.

"These projects brought professional writers, book artists and photographers into schools across the city, working with a total of 707 students and 34 classroom teachers," Falck said.

The programs usually end with public exhibits of the resulting student work.

"These final celebrations are truly momentous events. We wish that you could you all witness the power in seeing an English Language Learner hesitant at first to read in front of the microphone but finding the courage to confidently proclaim her words. Or, the numerous poems which had us all in tears or the stacks of heartfelt thank you notes from students," said Just Buffalo Artistic Director Barbara Cole.

Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown says the programs give students a chance to express themselves in their new language.

"It's a source of motivation, I think, for them to be exposed to photography and to be able to combine that with learning to write. It's a very, very complex skill. And so, the more that we can motivate children to want to do it and to appreciate their own writing, the more successful they will be," said Brown.

The school district pays part of the cost and Just Buffalo leverages that for further grants, including cash from national agencies.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.