We have been having our own struggles with this very same issue. Right now we still require our basic black white darkroom class as a prerequisite for the rest of the program. Being at the college level does put us in a slightly different place than you in a high school setting. We recommend to our our students to purchase a used film camera for under $200, if they are unable to borrow one from a family member. We have a few camera stores in our area that deal with used equipment. We have also purchased some 18 Nikon FM-10s with only 50mm lenses that can be checked-out for assignments, if the student is financially unable to buy a camera. We have had many photographers call wanting to donate old equipment as well. I am wondering if you are able to send out an email blast through your administrators to all parents asking for old camera donations? My local high school where we live regularly sends out email blasts for many different reasons, why not for donations?
We do believe, like you, in the fact that photography is truly best learned in the dark. I personal love film and fight for this road in our educational system here. It is faster, cheaper and easier for each student to comprehend what the camera controls are doing. It also forces them to look at the images they take for several hours as they learn how to make a print. They are teaching themselves composition just by the fact that many times, they admit to themselves Im tired of looking at this picture. Meaning, it doesnt turn them on visually.
In digital, I find that a beginning photographer will make some 10 exposures of the same subject that are nearly identical to each other. They assume to themselves that one of them has to be great. They also assume that a single print-out on their home inkjet creates the perfect print, because they like what they see on the monitor. They do not take the time to learn what a good image is (visually) and do not understand what makes a great print. In digital, in the beginning, there are too many assumptions and the digital actually is harder to understand because of all these assumptions. This does not even begin to approach the importance of camera parameter settings or how to correctly process the RAW and what all the numbers mean.
We have all digital classes and are getting ready to introduce a new fundamental digital shooting and printing class next fall. It will be conducted as close as possible to how we teach our basic black white printing class, so that the student will be learning how to make test prints and what the camera controls really do to the image. They will be forced to work with a single image for a time to achieve a great print.
Our clients are our students. They want digital to be taught. Fact is, they really dont understand how important the wet darkroom is to learning the fundamentals of photography and good printmaking. We, as teachers do understand this, but how do we get the beginning student to understand this without chasing them away?
I wish I had a perfect solution to your question and to your situation Jennifer, but I dont. Since you have lost your space for a wet darkroom, maybe creating a non-credit class with your local community college for your high school student to take for 6-weeks on Saturdayâ€™s is a solution for now?
I do hope this helps, at least a little bit. Let me know the solution you do come up with. It may help someone else very soon.