Snapping Joy at La Jolla High School: Student newspaper project has classmates smiling


By Ashley Mackin

Inspired by an art installation in Los Angeles, students at La Jolla High School recently finished a project aimed at grabbing images of joy and passing the joy to other schools.

The school’s Hi-Tide newspaper staff built and installed a sculpture to house a motion-activated camera to take photos of students’ random expressions of joy.

Hi-Tide student focus editor Mae Goodjohn, co-editors Amanda Menas and Laura Derickson, and business manager Jordan Bowman decided to post the results on the student focus page. It was inspired by the “Snap Your Joy” project from the organization, Soulpancake, which aims to “develop thought-provoking content and creative engagement opportunities that encourage people to explore what it means to be human” through social media. By installing a camera on the street, Soulpancake captured and showcased images of happiness.

The camera went up in late January without explanation, Bowman said, so the images captured could be candid shots. When they had some images, they posted the photos next to the camera, and ran the student focus feature. “Once students saw the photos and realized what the camera was for, we got three times the amount of participation,” Bowman said.

Students continued to take their joyful pictures while the camera was on campus, which were added to the wall on a regular basis.

On Feb. 10, the camera was moved to Muirlands Middle School, where the project will be repeated.

Hi-Tide faculty advisor Jim Essex suspects it will have just as much success at Muirlands.

“Joy is contagious and a picture truly is worth a thousand words,” he said. “At our school, the project snowballed into something that swept up students, faculty and staff alike.

“From a faculty advisor’s perspective, it was quite an experience to watch this project evolve. The planning, production and implementation of the camera was entirely student driven. Vice Principal Will Hawthorne played a strong supporting role in the logistics of the project and the editorial staff of the Hi-Tide newspaper were the driving force.”

Bowman said he has been communicating with students at The Bishop’s School who, through word of mouth, heard about the project and would like for it to come to their school next.

From there, Hawthorne and the Hi-Tide staff is looking at how to make this a San Diego Unified School District-wide project.

“It is these types of positive outlets that create an atmosphere that allows for true learning to take place,” Essex said. “There is a great deal to be learned in the traditional educational setting, but accomplishments like this are the best foundation for our future leaders.”

Soulpancake, founded by actor Rainn Wilson (known for his role as Dwight on NBC’s “The Office”) posted a photo of the completed project and a congratulatory note about students’ efforts on the Facebook page – it has 139,000 likes.

The only clue Muirlands Middle School students will have to the purpose of the large camera is a note nearby that reads: “Smile, joy is contagious.”