Special needs student wins top photo award

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published June 5, 2013

Athens High School junior Shane Karabelski is crazy about Sponge Bob and crazy about cameras. Every time his health care aide, Joshua Hanford, who is a professional photographer, brought his photo gear to school, Shane was fascinated.

“He’s always been interested in electronics and cameras,” said Sherri Karabelski, Shane’s mother.

Shane has Down syndrome and some visual impairment. Hanford explained that the special education staff strives to get every one of the special education students into one general education class, such as physical education or art.

“We really want the kids in school to experience them and them to experience a regular environment,” Hanford said of the special needs students.

So Shane and Hanford, with support from special education teacher Sara Seckell, joined Luba Sordyl’s photography class.

Hanford taught Shane what he could about composition and lent him his own equipment and tripod.

For a macro photography assignment, Shane chose the subject matter, a Sponge Bob book, and Hanford helped him set up the camera in a live shoot mode so Shane could see the screen easier. They put a piece of glass over the book cover, put drops of water on the glass with a dropper, then put it under a light.

Shane got his shot, and Hanford entered the photo online in the Southeast Michigan Region Scholastic Art and Writing Awards contest, sponsored by the Center for Creative Studies.

“Scholastic had no idea of his cognitive impairments,” Hanford said.

Out of 5,100 entries, Shane and three other students in the Troy School District won awards in the photography competition. Athens student Anjali Bjatt won two Gold Key awards, Shane won a Silver Key award and Tristen Via from the International Academy–East won an honorable mention.

The Troy Board of Education planned to recognize them and all of the students who have won awards at the June 4 meeting.

“I’m incredibly proud of him,” Hanford said.

“He enjoyed it. It was a good fit,” Sherri said. “It’s something he can have as a lifelong skill.”

When asked what he liked best about photography, Shane, via email, with help from his mother, said, “I like all the cameras and the parts of the camera. How that works is cool.”

“I want to take more pictures,” he continued. “Maybe of nature things or trees. I like taking pictures. It’s really cool.”