High school students try to save neighbors' memories

The students surveyed the photographs spread out on the table - a mix of black-and-white and color pictures depicting schoolchildren, a wedding and other family moments.

"This is gonna be hard," said senior Harry Mikula, 17, looking at a partially discolored fourth-grade class photo dated 1968-1969.

Katie Calkins, his teacher at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, picked up a more recent picture of an older woman that was stuck to another photograph, posing a different problem.

The Patapsco photography class was spending part of Monday afternoon examining their first batch of work: photos from the flooded basement of Jane Haines. Haines lives in Logan Village, one of the communities affected last month by a main break that sent water gushing into more than 100 homes in the Dundalk area. Throughout this month, the students are offering to digitally restore photographs ruined in the deluge.

Using Adobe Photoshop, they will touch up and even reconstruct scanned images that are water-stained or discolored, said Calkins. They plan to provide people with a CD copy of the restored versions, she said.

"It's just a service opportunity," Liberty Grayek, Patapsco's magnet coordinator, said in an interview. "Any time that the students can help their community, they're excited about it. ... It's pretty exciting, too, that they're able to use their skills to help."

Calkins said, "These are things that can't be replaced. We can replace a lot of our material losses, but we can't replace our memories."

She and Grayek hatched the idea after being inspired separately. A photography teacher at another school, who had done something similar after Hurricane Katrina, suggested it to Grayek, she said. For Calkins, seeing news reports of people salvaging their water-damaged things, including pictures - as well as a site called Operation Photo Rescue, which features photographs repaired after natural disasters, fires or other unexpected situations - led her to consider involving her students.

The juniors and seniors in her advanced photography classes appear more than ready, though several recognized the difficulties they will face.

"It's kind of fun knowing in the back of your mind that you're rebuilding a part of someone's life," Greg Barbagallo, 17, said. The payoff, he added, will be "seeing their faces after the picture is redone."

But he and his classmates said their work also presents a challenge.

"It is kind of nerve-racking to fix someone's pictures that they may have a lot of feelings about," senior Rodnique Steele, 18, said.

"Especially when you don't know them," Kelsea Arnold, 17, added.

For Haines, a second-grade teacher at Sandy Plains Elementary whose basement held photos belonging to her mother and grandmother, the possibility of having the images repaired means being able to preserve them for posterity, she said.

"I still know the story that goes with those photos, and they are stories you can't ever take away from me," Haines said. "I have it in my heart, and I have it in my head. But this would be more to show my children, and maybe my grandchildren someday, the picture that goes with the story."

Those interested in taking advantage of the Patapsco students' services can e-mail kcalkins@bcps.org or mail pictures to Calkins at the school, 8100 Wise Ave., Baltimore 21222. Information on the restoration service is also posted on the school Web site, patapscohs.bcps.org.

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