Brookline Lens: a New Student-Run Production House Serving the BHS Community

Brookline Lens: a New Student-Run Production House Serving the BHS Community

Brookline Lens CollageBrookline Lens, a BHS student-run photo and video production house, serves clients outside of Brookline High School, in addition to acceptingin-house project requests. The ultimate goal is for Brookline Lens students to graduate with a strong portfolio and resume highlighting advanced skills in photo and video design, project management and business communication. Launched in the 2019-20 school year, Brookline Lens is one of four new programs currently funded by a grant from the BHS Innovation Fund. The BHS Innovation Fund empowers the BHS faculty and community by fostering a culture of innovation and supporting the development of new ideas and initiatives that will enable our students to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

We caught up with the course leads Lori Lynn, a Visual Arts teacher, and Thato Mwosa, a TV Film and Documentary teacher, who share their insights into Brookline Lens this year, both before and after school closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How did you come up with Brookline Lens as an idea for an Innovation Fund course?

This course created itself. There was a demand for video and photography projects from entities inside and outside the BHS community. We were often approached with project requests and saw an opportunity for BHS students to do real work for real clients. We decided to turn the demand into a class because we needed time and space for students to focus on client work.

How does Brookline Lens differ from other Visual Arts courses?

Brookline Lens is different from other Visual Arts courses mainly because the projects are client-centered. Rather than creating artwork based on a student’s own personal expression, Brookline Lens students must use their creativity and organizational skills to fulfill the needs of others. This model allows students to learn meaningful communication and business skills that are not necessarily part of other Visual Arts courses.

How are community projects distributed to students and how do they manage their workload?

As requests come in from the community, we match projects to Brookline Lens students—taking into consideration skills and workload. In addition, students sometimes see a need within the community for a project and approach potential clients. Students must think about time management and can build a team for larger tasks. We schedule weekly meetings to discuss new job opportunities and the status of any current projects.

What are the opportunities and challenges of this course?

Brookline Lens students must communicate with clients and colleagues in a professional and timely manner, create work that reaches a level of quality expected and respect all deadlines. Students are challenged to always meet the level of professionalism required to complete designs for real clients. These skills are new and challenging for students, but they provide a fantastic opportunity to gain real-world experience and build essential professional skills.

How do you guide and support Brookline Lens students?

As facilitators, we guide students to create work that falls under their expertise, but we also encourage students to try projects that are out of their comfort zone. We work together with students to facilitate the business elements of the course, to inspire individuals to take leadership in groups and with clients and to evaluate performance.

Have students pivoted any projects in response to Coronavirus?

We have a year-long Public Service Campaign that focuses on Mental Health Awareness. When COVID-19 hit our community, we decided to shift gears to create content that still tackles mental health, but with the pandemic in mind. We hope to share those PSAs with the community upon completion. We added a Coronavirus link on the Brookline Lens website. This is space to display both PSAs about how to flatten the curve, and to show off the personal work students have produced during their time at home. The creation of art never stops, even when everyone is separated.

How has teaching remotely impacted Brookline Lens?

One of the big projects our Brookline Lens students were working on was a “Math Video Series” to promote a love of math in middle school. The project was in a pre-production phase and filming had not yet begun when we transitioned to remote learning. The project had to be put on hold, and we are hoping to resume when school opens in the fall. We do have some projects that students are still working on for clients, however. In addition to the COVID-19 PSA, our students just received an opportunity to complete a video for the Brookline Commission for Women.

Please visit for more insight into the Brookline Lens team, the students and the projects.


Q&A: Drawing for Understanding in Field Science

Q&A: Drawing for Understanding in Field Science

BHS Visual Arts teacher Donna Sartanowicz describes the evolution of the Innovation Fund Class, “Drawing for Understanding in Field Science.”

Drawing for Understanding in Field Science at the Arboretum 01 - © Sander SorokHow did you come up with the idea for the course?
It came from a workshop that Jill Sifantus, a since retired biology teacher at BHS, and I attended at Harvard University. The workshop focused on the very close relationship between art and science at the advent of serious scientific study of the natural world. Drawing was a routine part of studying the natural world for communicating ideas and discoveries.

What was the goal?
From our different vantage points — Jill, in the science department and I in visual arts — both came away thinking that this very old school idea would be a great new way to engage students in learning both subjects. Students learn in different ways and drawing is another system — just like language or mathematics — that they can use to learn information and express understanding.

Can you describe the Innovation Fund’s role in developing and expanding the course?
We were fortunate to have this idea while teaching at Brookline High School because of The Innovation Fund, which allowed us to put our idea into practice. The Fund’s review board was instrumental in helping us to hone our idea and think through all the possibilities. The grant money allowed us to teach and learn collaboratively for three years and this was some of the best professional development I have ever experienced. Working with Jill to integrate science teaching into the way I teach art enabled me to confidently teach this course on my own once the grant period was over.

This partnership opportunity resulted in a course so unique to our school that teachers from other schools have asked to visit and learn about this program, so they might propose something similar for their students. The ripple effects of the Fund’s generosity in supporting innovative educational ideas is spreading even beyond the walls of Brookline High School.

Drawing for Understanding in Field Science at the Arboretum 16 - © Sander SorokWhat happened after the three-year funding period ended?

After the funding period was over, the school picked up the class but did not keep it as a co-taught class. Since Jill was much closer to retirement than I was, it seemed better for me to continue the class solo. Although the three years of the grant were like “biology boot camp” for me (I hadn’t taken bio since high school) I decided that to keep up the rigor of the science end of the class, I would invite scientists into my classroom.

I had taken a project-based learning workshop a few years ago that stressed real-world questions and connecting with the professional community for launching, guiding, and giving feedback to students. In that first year after the grant, I did a lot of work setting up partnerships with institutions like the Arnold Arboretum, the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and graduate programs at Boston University, Rhode Island School of Design, Harvard University and Tufts University.

Drawing for Understanding in Field Science at the Arboretum 11 - © Sander SorokHow has the partnership with community organizations benefited the course?
The institutions allow my students to have experiences with the natural world and to hear about people working in the field as naturalists, curators, educators, illustrators, and researchers. Though the universities I have connected with graduate researchers who present their research and talk to my students about what it is like to study and travel the world as part of their research. So much of what students learn about in regular science classes is second-hand information from books. Having the researchers come in helps students to understand that science is not a fixed set of information — that there is still more to be investigated and understood and that they could be a part of that.

In its sixth year, the class seems to have a great reputation. What’s happening now?
I have presented this course as a visiting speaker in the art education department at Boston University last year and will do so again this year. I have also presented this work, for the second time, at the National Art Education Association Conference this year. I continue to meet individually and informally with both art and science teachers from other schools/districts wanting to start a similar course.

Many in the education field talk about interdisciplinary and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art, and math] classes but few receive the kind of support we got from the Innovation Fund to make it happen. The impact on students has been tremendous, as evidenced by the continued popularity of the course and students recommending it to other students.

Interview by Jennifer B. Wells



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