Ten students at San Diego SOAR Academy's Girls Rehabilitation Facility site recently explored positive and negative forms of representation through imagery as part of a five-week project that culminated with an exhibition of powerful self-portraits.
At the exhibition, the girls shared what motivated them to create the portraits. It was a way to reclaim a positive image and to counter the negative image they feel some people have of them.
"People see me as a failure since I am on probation and locked up. I am working on proving them wrong, but also proving myself right that I can actually be successful in life," said one of the students, who focused on her smile amid hard times for her self-portrait.
The 16-year-old student said she enjoyed creating the portrait and was excited for others to see it.
"I felt like we weren't locked up because we got to be ourselves and express our feelings through our pictures," she said.
The exhibition happened on a visiting night at the facility, so family could attend.
The students worked especially hard on the project, in part because they knew that their family and the community would see their work, teacher Yolanda Collier said.
"They want to do things to show themselves in a positive light," Collier said.
The experience was led by The AjA Project, a group that aims to transform the lives of youth and communities through photography.
"Every student, no matter their circumstances, benefits from extracurricular opportunities that expose them to the arts," said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County Superintendent of Schools and County Board of Education President Guadalupe González.
San Diego SOAR Academy is one of the San Diego County Office of Education's Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) that serves detained students in classrooms at Kearny Mesa and East Mesa juvenile detention facilities as well as Camp Barrett and Girls Rehabilitation Facility. The Girls Rehabilitation Facility serves girls between the ages of 13 and 17, offering an intensive, highly structured program focused on cognitive restructuring in a safe, structured, and caring environment.
JCCS provides a fully accredited educational program for school-age youth who are either wards of the court or have been referred by social services, probation, or one of the 42 school districts in San Diego County. Services are provided to students who are incarcerated, pregnant or parenting, in foster care, expelled, chronically truant, in drug treatment centers and group homes for neglected or abused children, and experiencing homelessness.
JCCS serves nearly 5,000 students per year at more than 20 sites across the county.