Every year, during school picture time, Cheryl McGlothlen found herself getting a little frustrated.

It seemed like the professional photographers taking pictures of her students at Sahuarita Unified School District's Early Childhood Center were always rushed for time and they weren't catching the kids' best smiles as a result.

Last year, she came up with an idea. She decided to ask Sahuarita High School photographer teacher Rebecca Warren if her advanced photography students wanted to take the pictures instead.

Everyone in the district is always trying to come up with ways to give students real-world experience and this seemed like the perfect way to do it, McGlothlen said. 

In addition, it would be an opportunity for older students to serve as role models for their younger counterparts, she said.

They did such a great job, they were invited back last week.

Eight students – Aubrey Larko, Benjamin Garcia, Vanessa Estrada, Andrew Gibson, Ricardo Valles, America Evans, Kylie Thompson and Aliya Freeman – delivered and set up numerous cameras, lights, tripods, backdrops and props to the ECC every day for three days. They took photos of nearly 200 kids in various poses at six different stations.

They took pictures of the children (all of whom are between two and five-years-old) sitting nicely, posing with guitars, tiaras, feather boas and other props and while playing on the playground.

SHS junior Kylie Thompson, 16, said the little ones loved being photographed while on the playground the best, but they also enjoyed the props.

"The boys loved the hats and the girls loved the tiaras," Thompson said. "The sunglasses were a big hit, too."

This is the second year Thompson has taken one of Warren's photography classes. Although she plans to go into nursing, she'll continue shooting photos on the side.

"It's just a really great way to get out and see the world and I just love taking pictures and learning about it," she said.

She said the three days at the ECC were awesome.

"Oh, I love kids. I love dealing with kids, taking their pictures, hanging out with them; getting to know them was so much fun," Thompson said. "They were so cute and they did so good, which was amazing."

Now that the students are done taking the photos, they'll go back to class, discard the photos they don't like and edit those they do. They'll be placed in individual computer files and emailed to the parents, who paid a mere $5 for the package.

"I got a chance to talk to a few parents and they were so excited about each and every one of the pictures," Thompson said. 

Another SHS junior, America Evans, 16, also loved the assignment.

"It was actually really fun," she said. "I had a really good time taking photos of the kids. They had these cute little smiles and they had a whole bunch of energy it was really amazing."

Despite their age, Evans said the kids followed directions really well.

"I was really surprised because it got to the point where the little kids got really excited and by the time it was their turn they already knew exactly which poses to do and everything," she said.

Evans isn't quite sure what the future holds for her, but she could very well become a professional photographer.

She and Thompson both said Warrens is an excellent teacher who knows her stuff and pushes them to excel.

"She always makes sure we're learning, but that we're having fun while we're doing it," Evans said.

Warren said most of the props used by the students are hers. Some she bought for her wedding, where she set up a photo booth. Others she bought for her son over the years. The rest she purchased on impulse.

"I have a very unhealthy relationship with Halloween and the Dollar Tree," she said with a laugh.

She is grateful to McGlothlen for approaching her with the idea.

"Regardless of whether they go into the photography industry or not, the job skills that they learn, showing up, being on time, and being responsible for equipment," are invaluable, Warren said.

If they do go into photography, the experience will definitely give them a head start, she said.

"These kids can do any kind of photography, they can be a street photographer, they can a landscape photographer, but the reality of it is if they’re actually going to be making money they’re probably going to start out in portrait photography. So this is really the best experience for them," Warren said.

In addition to the yearly ECC assignment, Warren said her students also shoot the Mustangs' prom, winter formal and other school dances.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

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