WATERVILLE — A half dozen fifth-grade students and members of a photography club at the Alfond Youth Center ventured outside Wednesday afternoon, the first time the weather has allowed them outside to take pictures during a club meeting.

They shrieked with delight at melting snow dripping off the roof and stumbled through the snow to avoid patches of mud. Their assignment: to document a journey around the Alfond Center.

“I like to take pictures of the things I see,” said their teacher, Eric Gottesman. “Collaborating with the students I get to see things through their eyes, and it helps me shift my own way of thinking.”

“I do this kind of work where I collaborate with kids often to make photographs, and I talked to them about doing a project like this here in town,” Gottesman said.

He said he is collaborating with the Alfond Center students to explore “their idea of journeys in whatever form that takes.”

He added, “It could be a journey around Waterville or a journey through life.”

Gottesman, who has spent the last 15 years traveling back and forth to Ethiopia, recently published “Sudden Flowers,” a compilation of photos taken with a group of children that he worked with in Ethiopia who had lost their parents to AIDS.

Although he has taught individual courses before, he said he was drawn to apply for a one-year fellowship at Colby as an opportunity to try teaching full-time.

“Every place is different,” he said. “I’m really interested in the different layers of history in central Maine, like the history of the mills and the social and economic affects on the region.”

Since arriving in Waterville, Gottesman, 38, has been awarded a Creative Capital grant, which will allow him to continue work on another project based in Ethiopia, creating a visual adaptation of the novel “Oromaye,” an Amharic-language novel that criticizes a communist military campaign in Eritrea in the 1980s. He plans to return to Ethiopia in June after finishing his year of work at Colby in May.

For now though, he is enjoying teaching at Colby as well as the younger students at the Alfond Center.

“I really like the age group of fourth to sixth grade,” he said. “It’s a really exciting time to send kids out with a camera.”

Wednesday’s journey around the Alfond Center started in a cafeteria room where the kids eagerly crowded around Gottesman to learn what their assignment would be for the day.

“It’s my normal day life,” said 11-year-old Owen Schuchardt, of Winslow, when asked about his project.

His favorite pictures he’s taken so far include one of the Holy Cannoli sign downtown, which he said shows an international presence in Waterville, and one of his refrigerator.

“It’s interesting because they get to take the cameras home and take pictures of stuff we don’t normally get to see,” said Morgan Wolfe, a child activity specialist and one of the supervisors of the photography club at the Alfond Center.

She mentioned Owen’s picture of the refrigerator as an example of a photo that has helped staff to learn more about the kids they are working with.

“It wasn’t just a refrigerator — there was an obituary, a birth notice, stuff that we don’t normally get to see from them,” she said. “I think it gives them more of a chance to express themselves, and it helps us figure out what they actually like and what they’re interested in.”

Whether he is in Ethiopia or in Waterville, Gottesman said he enjoys the opportunity to work with young people.

“I hope they learn a little about photography and use their cameras to explore their lives and what is going on in the world for them,” he said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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