ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Twelve-year-old Jared Martinez photographed gang insignia sprayed on a basketball court next to his school. A classmate snapped the familiar figure of a homeless woman sitting and smoking on a curb outside an abandoned building.
Other youngsters took pictures of drug dealers, drug pipes, drug bags and a memorial to a child killed in a drug dispute.
The sixth-graders from Enrico Fermi School No. 17 in one of Rochester's poorest neighborhoods were given an unusual assignment: use donated, disposable cameras to document the dangers around them, and offer suggestions for how to deal with those hazards.
The results were heartbreaking.
"They didn't have far to walk" to capture dozens of bleak images, said principal Patricia Jones.
Tykwees Bice's picture of a memorial beside the school entrance had a personal twist. The sign is dedicated to Tyshaun Cauldwell, a 10-year-old pupil killed by a stray bullet during a drug dispute outside his home on a June night in 2001.
"He was outside simply because it was too hot to be inside," Tykwees wrote. "What makes me even sadder is that the day he was shot, he was playing football with me. This is what normal kids do. ... There aren't as many children playing outside anymore."
The 59 youngsters each chose their favorite photo and wrote a short essay. Their work was assembled in a booklet, "Children's Visions and Voices," that went on sale this week for $5 a copy. The money will help pay for community service projects the school is now exploring.
The photo-essay idea was organized in September by the University of Rochester Medical Center, which in 2000 launched a project to turn Rochester into one of the healthiest cities in America by 2020.
"I am always amazed at what we learn when we take the time to listen to children," former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, the medical center's senior adviser for community health, wrote in a foreword. "Without their perspective, we cannot see the full scope of community issues that need our attention."
The photo-essay idea is an especially appropriate one for Rochester, the world headquarters of Eastman Kodak, though the company had no involvement other than manufacturing the cameras.
The public elementary school is in the Crescent, a ring of black and Hispanic neighborhoods beset by poverty, drugs and murder. At least 95 percent of the schoolchildren qualify for free lunch.
The sixth-graders were split up in small groups and taken on supervised tours of the neighborhood of dilapidated houses, abandoned factories, homeless people, unemployed men hanging out on street corners, and patrol cars rolling slowly down side streets.
One distant shot shows three young men loitering outside a house. "They are the reason people die," wrote Tajiz Perkins, titling his picture "Drug Dealers."
Unique Dorman took photos of "drug pipes, cigarette butts and trash in the park" but settled for a picture of paint peeling off a garage door. "Children are the ones most at risk" from lead poisoning, she said.
Another 11-year-old, Theron McGee, took a picture of a drug bag, but he said it didn't come out clearly, so he selected a close-up of a beer bottle tossed in a driveway.
"What I'm going to do in life is not be a drug dealer, don't drink too much, try not to litter and be nicer," he said.
Inspired by its exploits, the class is organizing a community spring cleanup. The youngsters are hoping to paint over the graffiti on a vacant building.
"If we want our neighborhood to be a better place, then we should not just persuade other people to do it, but do it ourselves," Unique said brightly.
"We're going to try to maybe design a better community in which we can make people communicate with other people and not have them arguing. We don't want to see that many police every day."