This exhibit features two series of revealing photographs taken by long time documentary photographer Gary Schoichet. The photographs depict New York City teachers who may have the most difficult jobs in the city: in Bayside, Queens they teach children and teens recovering from traumatic brain injuries; in East Harlem they teach children who are “medically fragile” — one label among many which is inadequate to describe their truly overpowering disabilities.
The two classrooms are part of the larger group of schools in District 75, the special education division of New York City schools. The number of students receiving special education services in the city continues to grow, from approximately 7.5% in 2002 to over 10% in 2009.
The children’s situations are as heartbreaking as their efforts to learn are inspirational. The work the teachers do — finding ways to communicate with kids who often seem unreachable — is hard to imagine.
Journalist Ellie Spielberg wrote about these communities of learning for the teachers’ union newspaper New York Teacher and Schoichet provided the photographs for her stories. The first article, “Mister Simon’s Neighborhood — Teacher of medically fragile children gives his students respect, dignity — and an education,” is about a school in East Harlem, and was published in December, 2004. The second article is from September, 2007: “A House of Love and Learning — Sharing heartbreak and joy is part of the job for these Queens educators”.
Schoichet and Spielberg generously collaborated on this presentation of photographs, sharing with us two terrific examples of documentary photography and human interest journalism at its best.
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