Ready. Aim. Click.

Photo by EMILY PRESTWOOD | The Ranger
Fifth grade San Jacinto Elementary students take pictures of each other during Camera Clubhouse.
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At 2:59 p.m. on Fridays, the San Jacinto Elementary halls are almost vacant. Exactly 60 seconds later, the flood gates are opened. Students and teachers mob the parking lot like a swarm of bees, scrambling to escape for the weekend.However, every second and fourth Friday of the month, something special occurs. Despite the slim odds of making it without being trampled, a handful of Amarillo College students brave the gushing river of children and swim upstream into the building. They are members of the Amarillo College Photography Club, and they are on a mission to spread their love of art through a program called the Camera Clubhouse.

The Camera Clubhouse started four years ago. “San Jacinto is our sister school and a part of the No Excuses college prep program,” said Ashlyn Mannis, the ACPC president. “It is like an honor system for the kids who do well and are dedicated to good grades.”

Mannis said René West, an AC photography instructor, saw the college preparation program as an opportunity for ACPC to get involved in the community. In order for a San Jacinto student to become a member of the Camera Clubhouse, he or she first must make good grades and be interviewed. West said the interviewing process helps young students become prepared for the real world.

Once a child is accepted into the clubhouse, he or she is taught various photography skills and techniques. “We come up with curriculum in our ACPC meetings, and then each visit, we teach it to the kids,” Mannis said.

West explained through an email that the clubhouse is constantly evolving. “Initially the kids were able to take cheap little cameras home. This did not work out the second year, so we decided to buy nicer cameras for them to use when we were there,” she said.

The Camera Clubhouse raised about $4,000 for new cameras. Last year, Process Art House conducted an exhibition fundraiser the night after a video broadcast on the PBS ArtZone about the clubhouse. The exhibition earned $500, and various other benefactors contributed as well.

West said the biggest fundraiser came from the ACPC members. Last year, every month, the members of ACPC would host ID photo shoots for AC faculty and staff. “They managed to raise enough money for 10 digital cameras, SD cards, batteries, chargers and photo paper,” West said. “Now every kid has a nice camera to work with when we are there.”

Although working with new equipment enriches learning in the clubhouse, what the students take away from the program is most important.

Destinee, age 10, is one of the Camera Clubhouse’s newest members. “I like taking pictures because when I am with the camera, it feels like I have the power to do something,” she said. Destinee said she thinks she would like to make a career out of photography as she gets older.

Alicia, age 10, said, “It is fun because you get to take pictures of actions.” She said she loves the projects the AC students teach her. Her favorite project so far is the most recent one, photo dioramas.

Sometimes an elementary student will be consistently drawn to a certain aspect of photography. When that happens, ACPC members do their best to allow the child to explore his or her passion.

For example, Devin, age 11, said he loves taking videos more than snapshots. At every clubhouse session, ACPC members work with Devin to make videos while other classmates work on still images. Devin also said he enjoys taking pictures of his toys and eating snacks during the clubhouse.

According to Eric Van Marter, a photography major, the clubhouse children give 120 percent of their effort toward every project. “The energy of the kids and the kids’ desire to do a good job is amazing,” he said. Van Marter heard about ACPC through his adviser, Brenda Walsh, and immediately was introduced to the Camera Clubhouse.

“I think college students involved with elementary students is a great mentoring program,” he said. “It is something they probably would not get in a normal elementary school.”

Van Marter described the clubhouse as a unique experience with the children. “It is inspiring for me,” he said. “It is great for me to mentor another generation.” He said the children are dedicated in the clubhouse and are taught responsibility. He said he likes to think it keeps them out of trouble.

Gladis Gallardo, a photography and graphic design major, said similar things. “I love working with these kids, because I know the area of the school,” she said.

Gallardo said one of the reasons she enjoys the program is because of the effort the school gives toward teaching art, a subject she said is declining. “The school raises a lot of money for programs and spends a lot of time teaching students about art,” she said.

Gallardo said other college clubs should invest in similar programs. “It gives the kids something to look up to. It is unique from working with just adults,” she said. “At the same time they are having fun, they are learning.

“Some of the kids bring out the best of you, They remind you of the kid you used to be.”

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