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Wells Middle School Photographers Discover Beauty in Every Direction

May 4, 2022

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one that I’m going to take tomorrow.” Imogen Cunningham – American Photographer

Middle school is often looked upon as the bridge between primary and secondary education. Mechanically, elementary students depart from the “cocoon” of largely remaining in one classroom with their teacher. As they matriculate, 6th – 8th graders learn to manage a daily structure that exposes them to multiple educators and to befriend fellow students that didn’t attend their previous schools. A true benefit during these years is to supplement one’s curriculum with self-chosen elective courses.

The three middle school sites within the Dublin Unified School District offer many elective options including courses in World Languages, Performing Arts and Visual Arts, to name just a few of the groupings. At Wells Middle School, Karey Ronnow has offered beginning and advanced photography courses for several years. Photography 1 teaches students the basic elements of composition and image design. This includes a focus on color, light, theory, and practical applications. Photography 2 adds skills to imagery, design, manipulation, and presentation. This is aided by advanced techniques in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Wells Middle School student photographers, Layoni Jayasinghei and Kai Trigg. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

In more recent years, Ms. Ronnow has encouraged her students to have their works submitted to the annual Dublin/San Ramon Women’s Club Art Contest. The contest is open to all students in the cities of Dublin and San Ramon from K-12 – which also includes special education categories. With all students and educators negotiating through a second year of COVID-19 restrictions, this celebration of the arts assumed even greater significance for those involved. As a bonus, a number of her students were recognized as awardees in the Grades 6-8 category. Specifically, this list includes Layoni Jayasinghei (1st Place), Kai Trigg (2nd Place) and Adam Halim (3rd Place). We recently visited Room H-4 during 1st period to sit down with Karey and some of her students for an enlightening discussion.

First place photograph by Layoni Jayasinghei From your baseline knowledge about photography at the start of the year, what unique techniques/methods have you learned in this class? 

Leyoni Jayasinghei: “I genuinely hadn’t known a thing about photography or editing before joining this class. Ms. Ronnow had not only taught my class the fundamental ideas of photography such as using bokeh, and how changing the shutter speed along with aperture can alter the photo. But, as well as a couple of individual techniques that can improve the photo. A few of the techniques she taught us were using lower or higher shutter speeds and using perspective to our advantage. Ms. Ronnow had not only taught us how to take a proper photo but along with editing. Photoshop and Lightroom Classic had been a stressful yet exciting experience, especially with creating some amazing creations. Both of those editing softwares were incredibly useful and inspiring, as we used tools such as content-aware, inverting colors, and more.” Due to COVID, this has been a particularly challenging two years in middle school. However, what are some of the positive experiences and great memories that you will treasure?

Jayasinghei: “COVID had left quite a negative impact on me as I continued school. However, there were definitely moments that I can cherish. Later, being able to physically meet up with friends and talk to them, gaining feedback, etc, in person has been a greatly positive contrast to how it was before.”

Second place photograph by Kai Trigg  Everyone walking around with a smart phone has a camera in their hands. However, please explain how you have gained an appreciation for manipulating a DSLR camera. What favorite techniques have you gained from this class? Please explain.

Kai Trigg: “In the beginning of this school year, I didn’t know much about the DSLR cameras or how they worked. After getting to learn about how they worked and the techniques that you can use, I really appreciated all the ways you could change the settings (like shutter speed and aperture) on the camera. I love all the ways you can change the settings and impact the image greatly. One of the techniques that I use a lot is using a low aperture, especially if you are taking a photo of a flower close-up. I like this because it creates a nice bokeh effect in the background and provides a nice center point of focus on the subject. Overall, the DSLR camera has been really cool to use and has taught me a lot about photography.”  Middle school is vastly different from elementary school in terms of class load and time management. What are your expectations as you elevate to Dublin High this fall? Do you intend to keep honing your photography skills?

Trigg: “Middle school is definitely different from elementary school in terms of time management and the workload. In middle school and especially as we go on to high school, time management is important so you can get through the workload. My expectations for Dublin High are that I think even though there may be a lot of workloads, Dublin High will still be a fun and learning experience. In terms of photography, I won’t be taking photography at Dublin High School but I do plan to keep taking photos if I can because this year has been really fun and a great experience.”

First Period WMS Photography Class (top row, left to right) Matthew Fiscella, Teacher Karey Ronnow, Jamel Barron, Kai Trigg, Jospeh Braddock (bottom row, left to right) Leyoni Jayasinghe and Roman Garcia. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

The educator that has helped to make this program flourish is Karey Ronnow. interviewed her a decade ago as she helped to understand the importance and fun of coaching the Wells Middle School Roadrunner Band Color Guard. She has opened the world of photography to scores of students over the years and we were interested in her reflections. You have been running the Photography program for several years now. How do you manage to keep the course “fresh” – both for you and your students?

Karey Ronnow: “While the beginning of the course stays the same year after year (learning camera basics such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and composition), I like to rotate assignments and class discussions. For example, students this year created a slideshow in Adobe Lightroom for their most recent portfolio presentation, while my advanced students created a website to showcase their work. Next week, students will be doing a “Genius Hour” where they get to research and learn about a Photoshop technique that interests them. This allows the students to be more engaged with what they’re learning, because they get to choose it!”

Third Place Photograph by Adam Halim Managing health precautions during this Pandemic era has been a challenge for all parties. However, what “victories” have you witnessed with some of your students as they’ve negotiated this past academic year?

Ronnow: “Students have definitely learned how to better communicate with one another online (we do a weekly online discussion post) and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. In my classroom, most students gravitate around one table and all work together – it’s pretty great to witness. They “model” for one another, they share ideas, techniques, and are constantly giving each other feedback (both positive and constructive). They’ve been able to step outside the box, explore art, and learn how to express themselves through photography.” would like to thank Karey Ronnow and her students for opening the doors to their own photography “Multiverse”. Additionally, more students have their works presented at the San Ramon Community Center. Those that are on display are from: Joseph Braddock, Matthew Fiscella, Roman Garcia, Jamel Barron, Sebastian Juarez, Gianna Gutierrez, Ariyah Marchan, Haley Morganstein, Luis Santamaria and Tanner Hamby. We congratulate all students that participated. Go Roadrunners!

One Comment
  1. June 1, 2022 3:30 pm

    Great post! Things have changes since I studied photography at school, we shot with Pentax K-1000 and had to develop our own black and white film 🙂

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