For the past three years, Tony Rocco, a teacher at John B. Stetson Charter School, has been running a photography program for a select number of students called The Stetson Shutterbugs.

Rocco has recently started an exchange program that will allow The Shutterbugs to engage in a six-month cultural exchange with Rocco's photography students in Colombia.  The exchange has already commenced with emails and Skype sessions between the students.  These emails are  to get to know each other before they meet in person this summer in Colombia for two weeks.  The following summer, the Colombian photography students will come to Philadelphia for a month in order to complete the exchange.

Rocco said: "We always talked about taking this trip, but it was always a dream.  But, now it's going to happen and now that it's there and it's in stone that this is going to happen, now all of a sudden we get into some of the realities."

Both the photography students in North Philadelphia and Colombia are taught the same type of photography techniques and given the same opportunities and access to take pictures and develop them in darkrooms that they have built.

Rocco said of the students exhibiting their work together: "How does a 14-year-old kid in Philadelphia see their world compared to a farm kid who grew up in Colombia? How do they see family, culture, work? The contrast of those photographs will be very interesting."

In the constant process of fundraising for the trip, Rocco said: "If it gets to the point where it's always, always, always about raising money, then I have to rethink about why we're here.  But I think it's just a step that we're taking to get to the next level."

With amazing support from the community, the Stetson Shutterbugs are free to take pictures of anything that they are interested in.  One of the newest members of the Shutterbugs, Joselyn Figueroa, said, "It's not just taking pictures, it's knowing what you see in them."

This type of cultural exchange that teaches the art of photography to students around the world allows them to appreciate and learn about other cultures that they may not be familiar with.

Rocco said: "To my knowledge, something like this has never been done.  So everything is starting from scratch.  This is the first time that we're doing it, so we're going to make mistakes. And we're going to learn for the next time."

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Jordan E. Strohl