When professional photographer Terry Johnston discovered that most high school senior portraits cost around $1,200-1,400, his first thought was, “I need to take more senior photos!”
Then he realized that the average family in the Grand Rapids Public School (GRPS) district where he lives probably had difficulty affording those prices. He soon found out he was right.
Many students at GRPS choose to skip having their senior pictures taken because it’s not in the family budget. And without a senior portrait, there’s no lasting yearbook photo.
“85 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunches,” says Ron Gorman, GRPS executive director of high schools and alternative education, referring to the National School Lunch Program and the district’s economically disadvantaged residents.
Johnston is one of three subcontracted photographers who shoots for Stellafly Social Media, a company that currently has a partnership with GRPS that's focused on promoting awareness about the school system, its programs and events through social media.
When Johnston approached Stellafly Founder Laura Caprara and shared his idea for providing free senior portraits to high school seniors, it seemed like a logical extension of the GRPS partnership and together, they created GRadPICS.
“It was one of those things that just made sense,” says Johnston.
GRadPICS provides GRPS high school seniors with two free senior portraits to choose from. Now in its second year, the organization has partnered this year with Color Inc. and Unitprints.com to be able to offer the seniors a free portrait package as well.
In order for GRPS seniors to qualify for the free portraits, they had to attend classes for the entire day on Oct. 2, which was the State’s Student Count Day. School funding is determined based on the amount of students in school on this day and organizers thought it was the perfect way to incentivize the 600-plus seniors in the district.
On Nov. 1, a team of professional photographers and assistants will visit each of the six high schools in the GRPS district -- Creston High School, Central High School, GR Montessori, Union High School, City High School, and Ottawa Hills High School -- and spend the day shooting portraits. Gorman estimates 20-30 percent of students will take advantage of the professional photography.
Johnston says that by the time they host the GRadPICS photo shoots in the fall, many of the students who can afford to hire someone have already done so over the summer. This way, the organization doesn’t take away from other photographers who shoot senior portraits for a fee.
Professional photographers involved in GRadPICS this year include: Terry Johnston, Tim Motley, Ian Anderson, Katy Batdorff, TJ Hamilton, Rob Smith, Michelle Smith, Steven David Branon, and Raeanna Anglen. Assisting the photographers that day are: Danielle DeWitt, Richard App, Marcel Thibert, and Mark Curtis.
Gorman says he is “excited about GRadPICS this year because more planning has taken place and more students are involved.”
Johnston knew he was doing the right thing last year when a student came up to him and said he couldn’t wait to show his mom because he had never had a professional photo taken before.
“This is about the kids,” says Johnston, adding that he’s grateful for all of the people involved who’ve chosen to take a day off to shoot the senior portraits and help the students.
Here’s where you can find more information about GRadPICS:
- Contact Stellafly Social Media
if you want to volunteer your time.
- Visit Grand Rapids Public Schools
- Visit Color Inc. Digital Pro Lab
- Visit UnitPrints.com
- Visit Stellafly Social Media
- Visit Terry Johnston Photography
- Like GRadPICS on Facebook
- Like GRPS on Facebook
Sources: Ron Gorman, Executive Director of High Schools and Alternative Education at Grand Rapids Public Schools; Terry Johnston, Photographer at GRadPICS and Terry Johnston Photography; and Laura Caprara, Social Media Strategist at GRadPICS and Stellafly Social Media
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor
Photography provided by GRadPICS.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.