The incredible work of the Key Peninsula Middle School digital photography students has gained fame locally, but recently, the students became famous around the country — maybe even around the world. Popular Photography Magazine ran a story on the photography class, led by teacher Mike Hunziker, on its Website’s blog under the headline of “Most Likely to Succeed.” The subhead reads, “With arts cut in favor of standardized test scores across the country, one small town middle school teacher champions for more photography classes…”

Mike Hunziker shares a moment to critique some of the work of students Veronica Farley, Krista Kooker, Jessica Kahler. Photo by Hugh McMillan

The high-level digital photography of the KPMS kids is on view for the whole world to find as fascinating as we do. More than a dozen students’ works are displayed in the online gallery that contains a total of 32 images. Some of these same professional quality images have previously been displayed in Gig Harbor’s City Hall, the Key Peninsula branch of the Pierce County Library and, with the June grand opening celebration of the MultiCare Medical Park in Gig Harbor, are now hung on permanent revolving display on the wall of a high-traffic hallway in that new facility. That they are now on the PopPhoto Website is icing on the cake.

Hunziker is justifiably bursting with pride at the accomplishments of his students. They, too, are rather impressed with the widespread recognition their artwork is receiving.

“I have learned so much in only a few months,” said eighth grader Kelli Davidson. “Knowing that my work is being shown has made me feel more confident in myself and what I can do with the camera.”

Classmates HaliAnn Carlson, Adam Hill, Michael Brewer and Jasmine Paxton expressed gratitude for the chance to learn from Hunziker, saying they didn’t feel confident in their skills initially but grew more confident as their teacher helped them understand “everything about photography, light, composition, and shape.” For these kids, the opportunity to share their photos with thousands of people is a huge event.

To quote Popular Photography’s Website: “In every school there is one teacher whose classes everyone wants to take. For 7th and 8th graders at (KPMS), that teacher is Mike Hunziker. His classes have become so popular, there are often not enough spots for all the students. The class started as one black-and-white film class five years ago and has grown into five sections of digital photography this school year. Up to eight sessions are scheduled for fall with the addition of another teacher, Karen Sanom, meaning that almost 60 percent of the students will become budding photographers.”

Hunziker, who teaches other subjects at the school, including math, has been an amateur photographer since he was a young child. He told the magazine that “through teaching photography, he is able to reach students in a way that not only transcends other more academic subjects, but also improves students overall academic performance.”

Key Peninsula Middle School digital photography teacher
Mike Hunznger with one of his students, Kelli Davidson.
Photo by Hugh McMillan

Seventh grader Krista Kooker said, “I really love photography so I was just in awe that I got some of my work shown in Popular Photography Magazine. We have a great photography teacher. After getting used to working with cameras, I really started getting the hang of photography. One of my best friends, Jessica Kahler, became a great photographer but has also helped me by being such a great model! She, Madison LaRose and I have become a lot better friends from digital photography. We bounce ideas off each other and get even better.”

LaRose said, “The thing that is more exciting than taking (photos) is seeing my work… on the wall. I feel so proud when I get a compliment from random people in the hall saying, ‘Wow, nice photo.’ I also feel very blessed to have such a driven teacher.”

Kahler, said, “It was such a shock to the brain just to comprehend that our little school’s photography would be displayed all over the Internet! I still have to take a double take to make sure that the beautiful displays are really my pictures hanging up all over my school and Gig Harbor.”

The online story notes how some of the kids have gone on to start their own photography business, take photos for local newspapers, and become virtually professional in the use of various professional-quality cameras and competent in the various techniques involved in portraiture, composition, lighting, and a plethora of computer-related disciplines. The writer endorses Hunziker’s profundity, saying, “I think it’s time we add a P to the three Rs.”

The article quotes Hunziker saying his students “learn to see things differently and have improved their skills in art and English classes, become more self-confident, independent, and responsible.”

“With such a focus on state standardized testing, I’m worried that we are losing our focus on the whole child,” he was quoted as saying.

These kids’ lives have changed forever, for the better, through photography and the man who showed them what they could do with it.

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