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Wichita Middle Schoolers to Visit Paris, Embark on Future Career Opportunities

By Emily Younger Barnwell 

Nine Gordon Parks Academy students are preparing to embark on a journey of a lifetime – a hands-on learning trip to Paris, France. The immersive experience is a workforce development opportunity designed to broaden horizons and cultivate global perspectives.

The Wichita school’s namesake, Gordon Parks, is a photography and journalism icon who dedicated his life to documenting social and cultural phenomena.

The seventh and eighth graders, passionately known as the GPA-9, will delve deeper into the life and impact of Parks from May 27 to June 2, walking the same Paris streets he did during the early 1950s.

“Gordon Parks used photos and speeches to focus on and address the issues of poverty, urban life, race relationships and civil rights,” explained Abby a seventh grader taking part in the Paris trip. 

The students will take on the role of photojournalists during their time overseas, with the possibility of having their work featured in a book by Michael Cheers, titled “I Needed Paris- Photography Inspired by Gordon Parks from His 1950-1952 Life Assignments.”

Cheers, a professor at the University of San Jose State University, extended the invitation to Gordon Parks Academy after learning about the school at a conference.

“He looked up our website and contacted me about the book,” explained LaTonia Kennedy, the principal of Gordon Parks Academy. “He invited us to come along with him to Paris so that students could trace the steps of Gordon Parks and take photos to be featured in his book.”

The 12 and 13-year-old students, none of whom have traveled outside of the United States, will also contribute to a documentary chronicling their adventure.

They recently shared what this trip and multimedia project means to them.

“It’s going to be a hands-on experience while being immersed in a different culture,” said Jayden. “Being a native student and among the minority, I now know and believe I can do anything I want and can achieve it with hard work.”

“Going to Paris could tell me more about Gordon Parks’ life and lead me to a path of my own,” said Alya. “This trip could affect my future career.”

The dedicated photography students are also actively engaged in fundraising efforts for the trip. They’re even taking French classes during their lunch periods and collaborating with Professor Cheers and his team.

Principal Kennedy envisions the impact of the trip, saying “My hope is that this will be a part of changing the trajectory of our students. It will bring awareness about other parts of the world and inspire them for a career in photography or careers that require the skills of photography.”

Gordon Parks Academy has partnered with the Kansas African Americans Renewing Interest in Spirituals Ensemble (ARISE Ensemble) on the project. Several Wichita businesses and individuals as well as Professor Cheers himself have also contributed to the fundraising goal, making the journey possible for the aspiring photographers.

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