A rendered gallery space featuring four works of art

A virtual gallery of the students’ submissions to the Getty/Amplifier contest
Source: Albert Celis

2020 was a difficult school year for teachers, students, and parents worldwide. Here in Los Angeles, Albert Celis used art education to help his students navigate the challenging time. “Students faced many new issues like never before. A lot happened. It was an unprecedented time,” said Celis, who teaches 8th grade U.S. History at Thomas Starr King Middle School.

Not only was there a global pandemic, but the United States was reckoning with issues of social injustice. Furthermore, quarantined students were spending even more time in front of their screens exposing them to more social and emotional issues. “All this forced me to learn quickly and make changes to my curriculum to make sure my students would stay engaged,” said Celis.

So Celis looked online for lessons that allowed his students to be active participants and use their artistic and creative sides. He found the Getty Teacher Webinars and, among those, the Getty/Amplifier “In Pursuit of ___” challenge.

On the left is a photo of the sun shining through trees in a wood. Superimposed text reads “Wasn’t It Pretty”. “Wasn’t” is highlighted in red.

This work, by Celis’s student Kelty Keltner, was submitted to the Getty/Amplifier contest and was one of the winning works. Text: I am in pursuit of keeping our national parks protected. Almost everyone has been to a national park and almost everyone has thought that those parks were beautiful, but soon there might not be anything. With global warming, pollution, and many other causes including COVID-19 the national parks might be permanently shut down. I chose the line “WASN’T IT PRETTY” because someday, although I despise the thought, my children will look through my photos and I will say those words. I chose this photo because I think it is one of the most beautiful photos I have taken which supports my title even more.
Source: Albert Celis

A black and white photo of a girl with a backward baseball cap with her fist in the air. The superimposed, red text reads “You don’t know my story.”

Text: What would you do if you were in a country where gunshots are normal, economy is bad, LGBT is endangered, female homicides and corruption happens? If I were you I would leave as soon as I can. Well guess what those are immigrants. People around the world come here for a better life. Immigrants are hardworking people who just want a better life. People leave their families at a young age to help them out. Imagine coming here crossing the desert at the age of 13 for a better life and never seeing your parents again. Well that’s the life of an immigrant.
Source: Albert Celis

“In Pursuit of ___”, created by nonprofit design lab Amplifier and Getty’s Unshuttered program, is a crash course in photo journalism, tailored to kids, and taught via four 30-minute video lesson plans. Those lesson plans teach students to combine photos with text in the style of iconic artists like Barbara Kruger and Hank Willis Thomas to create works of art that answer the question, “What are you in pursuit of?”

The project invites students to “consider, inspire, and share. It listens and suggests action. It encourages teens to reflect on their own lives, consider the state of the world, and inspire others through their unique artistic expressions.”

A black and white photo of a woman in a bathing suit. The superimposed, white text reads, “Women’s education isn’t just about learning.”

Text: In pursuit of equal education for everyone. Education is about where you are, and where you are going to go, that is where the title “WOMEN’S EDUCTION ISN’T JUST ABOUT LEARNING” comes from. With education comes so many opportunities which can be limited to women. Even if women get the education that men do they would still most likely have a more difficult time in a learning environment because of systemic sexism. In the photo I chose my great grandma in a bathing suit next to a fenced off neighborhood. I chose her photo to represent this cause because she was a woman that struggled in school, not because she wasn’t smart but because the school system wasn’t made for her.
Source: Albert Celis

A black and white photo of a girl with long hair. Her back is to the camera. She holds pepper spray behind her back.

Text: As you can see in the photo, I’m holding pepper spray to represent what women do when they go out. Many women are scared to go out at night because they don’t feel safe. Some women may not even feel safe in their own home. Women have to lean at a young age how the world is because of how dangerous it is for us. Therefore, we get told how we should act and dress because society chooses to teach us what to do instead of teaching men how to respect women. Women should be able to feel safe and dress like we want to without being judged or without getting sexualized.
Source: Albert Celis

“The ‘In Pursuit of ___’ challenge provided my students choices,” said Celis. “They were able to develop their own voice on issues that were going on in the world. It was beautiful to see student photos and their critical perspectives. Students took the role of photographers seriously and learned, shared and taught their classmates and others on numerous critical social, political, and economic issues.”

Something that Celis was happy to see from his students is how serious they took on the role of photo journalist. They were eager to share their photos and tell their powerful stories. Even through distance learning and via Zoom, it was very successful. “What I found out is that my 8th grade students wanted to make their own decisions, and giving them the flexibility and opportunity to pick an issue they cared about made them feel heard, motivated and empowered.”

A photograph of a blond toddler in a clearing in the woods. The superimposed white text reads “protect the wild.”

Text: This is an old picture of me, that my grandma took. It [was] taken in the forest that we always go to together. The sentence “protect the wild” has two meanings. Protect the wild as in protect nature and wildlife, and protect the wild as in protect children and wild minds.
Source: Albert Celis

A selfie of a girl wearing a mask. The superimposed text reads “Save the lives of the people around you.”

Text: This quote and picture [have] a very important meaning to it. This is because of the global pandemic we are going through right now which is the most enormous problem we are facing. Covid-19 is a deadly virus that a lot of people are scared of. Although, there are some precautions that can be taken in order to prevent catching the disease or spreading it to others. For instance, sanitizing as much as possible, maintain your distance which should be 6 feet, avoid large crowds, and wearing a mask when going out your house. In the picture I am wearing a mask to show people the importance and power of a mask. As simple as it is to wear a mask some people still don’t. Wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of Covid-19. A mask can also save people’s lives. So, please wear a mask, save a life.
Source: Albert Celis

The results stunned Celis. He presented them at Thomas Star King Middle School’s virtual art festival to showcase the students’ work. During the two-day festival, more than 1500 students, families, and teachers from Thomas Starr King were able to view the powerful projects.

When asked for the most important takeaway from the year, Celis answered, “Be flexible, try different resources and opportunities, don’t be afraid to try new things.” This is what Celis will be carrying into the 2021 school year. He also plans to reuse the lesson plan.

Learn more about the Getty/Amplifier lesson plan.