The Power of Photography...and teamwork
By Anna Elizabeth Johnson
Over the past few years U-High teacher Jayna Rumble and her photojournalism students have built a powerful and award-winning storytelling team. This isn’t just another classroom—they work in a fast-paced environment and have very real deadlines. The students learn to hold one another accountable and that others are relying on them to follow through. The result? Students who have learned how to work with others while honing their own craft—and how important it is not only to do your best work but also let others do theirs.
“It’s such a tight club,” says Rumble. “There are so many assignments coming in for the Midway and U-Highlights that the photojournalists have to communicate constantly. They cover events in teams and help each other edit and submit photos on time. We take class trips to practice in different shooting scenarios. All of that leads to an environment in which students feel they can trust one another to help them succeed and to push each other to new levels. It’s a real team.”
Many students love the class so much that they often take it two or three years in a row, which allows Rumble to see them grow from novices to experts.
“I think the main change I see in students over time is their dedication to telling whole stories. I think many beginners who find technical success will eventually learn that you can’t just show up and rely on your technical skills to help you snap a couple photos and be done. A real expert knows that photojournalism is also about reporting while you’re in the field. Good photojournalists will help writers by asking questions and taking notes while on the job so the story is accurate.”
Rumble strives to empower her students to become mentors and teachers to their younger peers—not just to share knowledge, but also because it helps them feel connected with others. The pandemic took away the opportunity for many students to connect socially; being back in school and discussing and documenting the stories that surround their experiences has helped restore that sense of connection.
“I was lucky to have such natural leaders in my class, and so I wanted them to coach the beginners as much as possible in the hopes that the beginners would be inspired by their classmates, but also in the hopes that they would really just feel happy to have that kind of connection again in school.”
Rumble notes that the disconnection of the pandemic isn’t the only issue that her class helps students cope with. “I think we have seen many instances, especially recently, of democracy being threatened and truth being written off. I want my students to feel a sense of power when they are holding their cameras. They have the power and opportunity to capture truth and tell important stories. I love print journalism, but powerful photojournalism can stop people in their tracks and make them feel things that words sometimes just cannot.”
Perhaps more than most classroom cohorts, Rumble and her students have shared some powerful experiences—especially as their accomplishments have garnered attention and awards. “[We’ve had] so many great moments. Seeing Andrew Burke-Stevenson’s, ’22, photo published on page one of the Chicago Tribune was a real highlight for me. Also, Elliott Taylor, ’22, won first place in News Photo of the Year and second place in Feature Photo of the Year this year and getting to tell him that news was so fun. He was so excited! I’ll never forget Malcolm Taylor, ’22, coming to tell me that he was going to pursue photojournalism at Syracuse. There are just so many wonderful moments I can recall where a student was nervous about covering an event, but then can’t wait to come back and tell me that they nailed it, or we realize together when editing that they’ve got something outstanding. The whole group crowds around the screen and we celebrate together.”