After returning from a trip to Westbrook sister city Archangel, Russia, last month to take part in a photography exhibit, two Westbrook High School seniors recapped the visit for school officials at the Westbrook School Committee meeting last week.

Isaiah Gava and Kaitlynn Hutchins spoke about their learning experience in Russia, including their time visiting the N21 high school.

Gava and Hutchins were named the American winners of the international photography exchange with Archangel, which was dubbed “A Day in the Life of the City.” Students from Westbrook and the N21 high school in Archangel submitted photos for the exhibit, which has shown in both countries.

Twenty-four students from Westbrook High School took part in the exhibit, taking photographs during the month of September. Hutchins was named the overall winner of the Westbrook group, with Gava taking second.

The students were accompanied to Russia by Sarah Swain, Westbrook art director, and art teacher Matt Johnson, who led the students’ photography class this year.

Gava called the trip a “privilege,” and said he learned a lot from constantly asking questions.

Hutchins noted many differences between the countries’ school systems, and took note that Russian students must pay money to take art classes, which are offered outside regular class instruction.

“It’s important to keep art alive because it gives us the ability to communicate without words to anyone, from anywhere,” she said.

Gava added that it made him appreciate the art department and programs offered here. Hutchins also spoke about some of the conditions in Archangel, which surprised her.

“It changed my point of view of my own town,” she said.

Gava said the two cities have a connection through art, with both cities putting more focus on the arts.

The project was supported by the Greater Portland-Archangel Committee, and the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, which provided a grant that covered the majority of the trip costs.

Dennis Marrotte, a vice co-chairman of the Archangel Committee, said following the presentation that “art is a universal language.” Marrotte took part in the first photography exchange between the sister citys in the early 1980s.

“I never thought it would last this long,” he said. “It’s fantastic to see a new generation from Westbrook carrying the torch.”

Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse called Hutchins and Gava “ambassadors” of Westbrook.

“Both of you represented our school, our community, our state and our nation very, very well,” he said.

Posing for a photo during their trip to Archangel, Russia, recently are, from left, Westbrook High School art teacher Matt Johnson, senior Kaitlynn Hutchins, senior Isaiah Gava, and Westbrook Art Director Sarah Swain. Courtesy photo

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