Many schools require seniors to work on an extended independent project before graduation.

The senior project can often motivate students in the last months of high school to engage deeply with a topic they care about, practice the autonomous skills it takes to design and carry out a complex task over time, and make relationships and connections with the world outside school.

At Paul Robeson High School for Human Services, students are collaborating on their senior projects through TRIPOD series.

“We’re working with different organizations on something called a TRIPOD,” said senior Kaliyah Pitts. “A TRIPOD is a project that includes photographs and writings based around people’s point of view of how they look at certain things in Philly. The project itself is a lot of fun, because it allows us to be creative and think outside of the box.”

Last year, Drexel University, Canon Solutions America and Canon USA announced a collaboration to introduce an innovative year-long project series with Writers Room and the Mighty Writers called TRIPOD.

During the 2017-2018 school year, six groups of three writers drawn from the community, Drexel and local high schools have worked together to create projects of their own design.

Using writing and photography, these inter-generational triads have been documenting West Philadelphia and other parts of the city. While telling collaborative stories about the ongoing changes in their communities they have found meaningful commonalities as neighbors and built friendships across difference.

“They’re the first high school students to be doing this project,” said ArtistYear Philadelphia fellow Lauren Lowe. “They all did TRIPOD for their senior projects, and a huge part of my work as an ArtistYear fellow at Robeson High School this year has been mentoring them throughout it. We recently set up two portrait days at Robeson which was a way for us to bring the work with writing and photography out to the entire Robeson community for everyone to experience.

“Throughout the project, we have two lead photographers in seniors Kaliyah Pitts and Dahmere Town who will be taking portraits of students, staff, faculty and family members of Robeson,” she added. “We have another student senior Mark Dawkins who will be leading the writing portion. It’s really all about capturing the moment. Their work from TRIPOD will be on display at the Free Library through September of this year.”

Lowe said that she hopes to curate the students’ work and make it into a book as a keepsake for the school.

“I’m currently working on compiling all of the portraits and postcard writings that students and faculty did during the two days of the workshops,” Lowe said. “My plan is to pull everything together into a book to leave with Robeson High School as I finish my ArtistYear work there. I also want to give everyone who participated in the project a free print of their portrait [courtesy of Canon] and a copy of their writing so that they can have both as a tiny time capsule from this year.”

Through the TRIPOD project, Pitts has found an interest in photography. She even wants to have a future career in the field.

“The day that I visited the Dornsife Center at Drexel was the day that everything changed for me because it was in that moment that I found out about photography,” Pitts said. “When I first found out about photography, I was so excited. It was during that time that I picked up a camera and learned how to shoot.

“I wanted to work on my craft and be the best, so I’m always working hard and putting the work in to get better. I’ve come a long from when I first started shooting,” she added. “Photography has taught me so much. Before I started my senior project, I wanted to draw and design clothes. I even talked to Lauren and my principal about my interests and what direction I wanted to go in once I graduate from Robeson.

“I remember telling them I was interested in sculpting and pottery. I was all over the place with my ideas, but it always involved me being creative. They helped me narrow my interest down to photography. This is something that I love to do. It makes me happy and I want to make a career out of it.”

chill@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5716

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