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Picture day holds special meaning at Hartford school where kids’ smiles nearly weren’t captured

HARTFORD--Before the sun rises, everything in the Santiago household in Hartford usually happens in a flash as Elizabeth Santiago, a mother of five, rushes to get her children off to school.

However, Elizabeth spent a little extra time with her oldest son, Miguel, on a recent morning to make sure he was picture-perfect.

“Everything is going to get better and better,” said Santiago.

Santiago doesn't let her kids take a simple smile isn’t taken for granted in their house because she struggles financially and most days are difficult for her children.

It’s why they pray for brighter days every morning; especially Miguel, who dreaded leaving the house for years because he was teased at school about his clothes. “I would get bullied and people think they could push me around,” said Miguel.

Now, the sixth-grader looks forward to class. But he was particularly excited on the morning of picture day at McDonough Expeditionary Learning School in Hartford.

Picture day is a staple in many schools, but not at McDonough.

A lot of families are like Miguel’s and can’t afford pictures. Principal Bethany Sullivan said portrait studios don’t even bother coming anymore.

“They were disappointed at the fact that our parents weren’t buying enough of their packages,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan’s friend, Carla Ten Eyck, heard about the problem and put out a call to other professional photographers in Connecticut. Many responded and wanted to make picture day special for the 270 students at McDonough and their families.

“I feel like we had too many photographers,” said Ten Eyck.

The students will be provided pictures in different sizes at no cost.

“I feel like parents deserve that and the children deserve just the ritual of that. It’s just part of growing up,” said Ten Eyck.

Ten Eyck said children like Miguel, whose road in life hasn’t been picturesque, deserve the feelings that come with picture day, now and in the future, when the days are brighter and they look back at that moment and realize how far they’ve come.

In addition to support from photographers, the community stepped up to help pay for some of the prints through a GoFundMe account, which raised more than $1,800 in one month.