Most people have that one school photo from junior high they really wish had never happened. Glasses, braces, acne and awkwardness were framed and memorialized on the living room wall.
In our chagrin at tween awkwardness, it’s easy to forget that school photos are something of a privilege—a privilege not every family can afford. One local photographer realized this and started working to change it.
Nicole Bozickovich was a recent Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) graduate working as an art teacher at STEAM Academy in Akron when she noticed that most of her students were opting out of school photos. Thinking about it over the summer break, Bozickovich realized that money was probably the prohibitive factor, and she started working on a solution.
“ I was just going off the idea of what would happen if I was able to provide school photos for the children I work with,” she says. Her brainstorm led Bozickovich back to CIA, where she had first melded her passion for photography with teaching in a class called Artists in the Classroom. That class brought Bozickovich’s artistic talents into a charter school classroom in Cleveland, fused it with her affection for little ones, and pointed her toward her current job.
“ After that course, I knew right away that I was supposed to teach,” she says. “I was made to teach inner-city kids.”
Bozickovich got in touch with the head of the photography department at CIA, Nancy McEntee, and laid out her plan.
“ I had a strong relationship with her, and I told her I had this idea where I wanted to photograph all 150 students at my school,” Bozickovich says. “I asked her if there was any way the department would lend me the equipment to do this.”
Not only did McEntee and CIA lend Bozickovich all the equipment she needed, they provided four current-student volunteers to help with the photo shoot.
Bozickovich organized everything, from sending a letter home to parents, to scheduling the times for each class, to organizing which volunteer had which responsibilities, to making sure they had all the right equipment.
“ That was a little scary for me just because I put so much trust into [my volunteers],” she says. “It was like, oh my goodness! If we miss something, I don’t know what we’re going to do. There’s no backup!”
As the big day approached, Bozickovich could tell her idea was having an impact on her students and their parents. One parent came in confused about the letter, and when her child’s teacher explained that the photos were, indeed, free, she seemed overwhelmed.
“ She [said], you have no idea what this is doing for us,” Bozickovich says. “And I [responded], that’s the point!”
Bozickovich also noticed changes in attitude among the children with the mere prospect of a photo shoot.
“ Students were coming up to me and [saying], ‘Oh Miss B! I got my hair done today for picture day!’’ she says. “And we had a little boy who came in for his picture with a suit and tie on, so you could see the amount of confidence these kids had.”
The shoot went off without a hitch, but then Bozickovich was faced with another hurdle. How would she get the photos printed? Not wanting to ask for too much from CIA, she had told McEntee that she would figure it out somehow. She worked out what she thought would be a cost-effective package—one 8x10, two 5x7s and four wallets—and sent that information to McEntee, not expecting anything from her.
“ When I told her that, she told me the institute would donate [materials] so every student could have the package deal and be guaranteed that,” Bozickovich says.
The experience has been quite overwhelming for Bozickovich, who is now working to make her idea grow into something that can help more children have the privilege of taking home photo memories of their formative years.
“ My goal is to create a nonprofit [that] will then be able to provide school photos for other charter schools in the Akron and Cleveland community so that every student can get a school photo and not have to pay,” she says.
And it’s already growing, with help from Jakprints, an online printing company Bozickovich’s brother works for, who is donating funds to print yearbooks for the STEAM Academy students.
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Inspired by LeBron James’ charitable efforts for young people in our area, Bozickovich is quite busy these days working with CIA to create internships for photography students, learning to write grants for her project and dealing with all the attention her idea has garnered.
At the end of the day, the hard work needed to make it happen is worth it, if she can overshadow some of the negative aspects of her students’ lives with this one positive program.
“ When we think of photo shoots, it’s usually really important people,” Bozickovich says. “I wanted [my students] to know that they were important enough to be captured in a photo.”
To donate or volunteer for Bozickovich’s project, contact her at email@example.com.