Two seniors at Mounds Park Academy (MPA) in Maplewood are teaming to offer free portraits to metro area high school seniors who cannot afford or do not have access to a professional photographer.

Kendra Stone and Phillipe Thao embarked on the effort as a senior service project.

The two dubbed the endeavor "KP Photography," after taking it over from 2013 MPA graduate Callan Shackor. Shackor had shot her portraits as part of her senior service project and as a Girl Scout project, too.

"For Girl Scouts, it had to be sustainable, so over the summer Kendra and I took it over," Thao wrote on the MPA website.

Last year, the project was tied to Breakthrough Saint Paul, a partnership between MPA and the St. Paul public schools. But Thao and Stone have expanded its scope to the entire Twin Cities area, and are encouraging seniors who wish to schedule appointments to e-mail them at or to message them at their Facebook page:

Sample portraits can be seen on the Facebook page and are drawn from photo shoots in St. Paul and Stillwater, among other locations.

After the shoots, Stone and Thao send free CDs containing the portraits to each of their photo subjects.

"We love doing this project because every senior deserves to have their photos taken, but shouldn't have to pay a lot of money for professional photographers," Thao wrote. "KP Photography provides this opportunity without the financial burden."

MPA is a pre-K-12th-grade independent school that in past years has drawn students from the Washington County communities of Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Hugo, Oakdale, Mahtomedi, Afton and West Lakeland Township.

Each of its upper-school students must complete at least 60 hours of service over four years to graduate, "culminating with an intensive senior service project," according to an MPA news release.


Levy proposal gets politicians' backing

Our Schools Our Valley, the community group promoting a Stillwater Area public schools levy proposal, announced the campaign had backing from elected officials from "across the political spectrum."

Voters will decide on Nov. 5 whether to boost a current district operating levy from $11 million to $16.2 million annually. Approval of the measure would cost the owner of a median-valued $250,000 home an additional $167 in property taxes, the district has said.

Legislators quoted in the news release included:

• State Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, who said her four children attended district schools and she "couldn't have asked for better academic and life preparation."

• State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, who said the levy proposal would ensure that students receive a 21st century education and was a product of "a thoughtful process of community input and wide-ranging local support."

• State Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, who described herself as a "strong believer in quality education for all students, whether in public, charter, private or home-school environments," and applauded district efforts to deliver "the best education possible for our students."

The Star Tribune also sent e-mail queries to other members of the district's legislative delegation. Of those who responded, state Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, and Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, said they supported the proposal, and Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he did not take public positions on local levy issues.

Other local officials to sign on to the effort include Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, Sheriff Bill Hutton and County Attorney Pete Orput.

"We know from research that individuals who graduate and have access to quality education throughout primary and secondary school are less likely to commit serious crimes and be enrolled in public assistance," Orput was quoted as saying. "A good education equals a good citizen. And the bottom line when it comes to our kids is that if we don't educate them, I will likely end up incarcerating them."

Anthony Lonetree