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/ Source: TODAY
By Abbey O’Brien

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it’s not often that the photographer is the subject you focus on first.

In New York City, several high school students are getting the experience of a lifetime behind the lens at an after-school program called NYC SALT.

Founder and Executive Director of NYC SALT, Alicia Hansen, told TODAY's Erica Hill that the program seeks to “engage, inspire and empower high school students for digital photography and college preparation.”

This program lasts 35 weeks and brings together 16 New York City students ages 14-19 who qualify for free or reduced lunch. There is an intense application and interview process, and once chosen, the students spend at least two afternoons a week in the lab working with different computer editing software and learning from experts in the field, many of whom volunteer their time.

Teachers also help the students with college applications, financial aid, and SAT/ACT prep. According to Hansen, since their first graduating class in 2011, every NYC SALT student has been accepted to college.

“SALT not only helped me to be a better photographer, but it also helped me to be a better person and be more professional than I used to be,” said Malik Sidibe, and NYC SALT student.

In the program, students are encouraged to challenge themselves through a variety of projects where they take abstract photographs, portraits and city-scapes.

Perhaps the most humbling part is that students who qualify for NYC SALT are given instruction and studio time free of charge. And it’s not just a class to these students, it’s much more than that. “SALT is family,” says Sidibe. “Everybody cares about each other.”

Everyone at SALT learns photography and storytelling skills, but it’s clear that this program has done much more to help these often first-generation college students to realize their potential.

As the program continues to grow in popularity, Hansen hopes that NYC SALT continues to give its students “a sense of confidence, understanding the importance of community, and friendships and mentors.”

And she believes that they can do anything they set their mind to. “There’s opportunity all around them, they just have to grab it.”