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Finding Their Voice Outdoors: Care Center Student Photography Program

students photographing nature

Being a mother is never easy. It’s even more challenging when you’re still going to high school. The Care Center in Holyoke supports young women as they navigate these two critical parts of their lives. It provides an alternative education program that empowers young mothers to create a successful future for themselves and their children.

This education incorporates the arts, which is why Kestrel partnered with professional photographer Michael Zide to design an outdoor photography class for Care Center students this spring. Students visited conservation areas, including Mount Tom State Park and the Silvio Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge Fort River Division, to explore nature and photograph the land.

Care Center faculty Marjory Zaik partnered with Kestrel’s TerraCorps Community Engagement Coordinator, Jack Sweeney-Taylor and Michael Zide on this outdoor classroom program. Here she shares her thoughts on the impact of the program.

“During May and June 2019, Care Center students and I looked forward to our Wednesday afternoon landscape photography class meetings with Jack and Michael.

The class offered the invaluable opportunity to bring students to several beautiful, peaceful, interesting and easily accessible natural sites in our vicinity. These field trips allowed students to enjoy nature in a carefree, creative, supported way. Although The Care Center is located in a city, and although most of our students live in urban settings, we had only to drive 15 or 20 minutes to find ourselves surrounded by woods, water, and wildlife in state and federal refuge lands. This was, simply, a gift.

Student and teacher looking at cameraI was pleased to notice how each student learned to regard herself as a photographer with a unique perspective. Students took naturally to using the cameras we provided (and/or their phone cameras). They were eager and receptive to the instructional prompts provided by Michael about photographic techniques, and those provided by Jack about the areas we visited. When out in the field, students were constantly observing scenes and details they wanted to photograph. They shared their delights and observations with each other, while also immersing themselves in the scenery and having their own singular experiences of it. I felt that the class was successful in creating both solo and group learning experiences for the students; they had the satisfaction of creating on their own and also benefiting from being with each other, noticing what others were noticing, and receiving guidance from professionals.

Thank you, Jack and Michael, for providing the guidance, presence and context for this rich, multifaceted learning experience for Care Center students.”

Students who participated in the class added that being outdoors was “very calming” for them, and in addition to learning skills with the camera, they learned to look differently at the world around them.

Below are photos of the class’s visits to five sites in and around Holyoke, along with a sample of the students’ work. Thank you to each of these sites and their staff for making our visits possible, and to the Care Center for collaborating on an eye-opening project!

Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke

Student taking picture at museum

Mount Tom State Reservation, Lake Bray, Holyoke

Students taking photos

Students with cameras in woods

Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge, Fort River, Hadley

Students at Conte Refuge


Student photo by Yariely


pond and logs
Student photo by Serenity


Meadow and Range
Student photo by Yariely


Iris flower
Student photo by Genesis

Mass Audubon Arcardia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton

Photographers on trail


Spiral stairs by Sidney
Student Photo by Sydney


Girl in an old tree
Student photo by Makayla

Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton

Students photographing Park Hill Orchard


covered orchard
Student photo by Genesis


Daisy ring
Student photo by Yariely


Sculpture at Park Hill Orchard
Student photo by Yariely
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