February 6, 2005 / Current Event Features

Amid destruction, yearbook staffs forge ahead

Written by Idea File Staff

For the yearbook staffs and advisers at several Florida schools and other locations along the eastern seaboard, there was no normal beginning to this school year. Even now, as the school year is half over, the effects of last year’s hurricane season still linger.

Four hurricanes – Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne – struck Florida and the eastern half of the United States over the course of two months early in the fall. In the state of Florida alone, the storms brought 117 deaths, destroyed more than 25,000 homes and caused more than $42 billion in damage. Massive flood damage was also incurred by several locations, once the storms moved inland.

The school year has moved on, though, and so has the business of cranking out a yearbook for most schools.

Ladders have been rewritten, due to mass cancellations of fall sports and other events. Deadlines have been pushed back, and the mad scramble just to produce the book has begun. By the time the storms ended in late September, many schools had technically been in session for almost two months, but still hadn’t actually had a full week of class. Even now, school life and daily living remain a struggle.

“Day to day living here is not as it should be,” said Bobbie Szulczewski, the yearbook adviser at Palm Bay High School in Melbourne, Fla. “Life is not at all back to normal.”

Extensive damage

Damage at schools varied across the state. At Palm Bay, one of the doors to the yearbook room was blown off and destroyed, while at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., damage to the school’s roof from Frances caused leaks everywhere.

When Frances was bearing down on the coast, Eau Gallie adviser Brenda Earhart and her family were forced to evacuate their home since they live on a barrier island. The school was set up as a Red Cross shelter, so they waited through Frances by sleeping on the floor of her classroom at Eau Gallie for almost two days.

But at St. Edwards School in Vero Beach, Fla., the impact of the storms was disastrous. The school’s 800-seat auditorium was lost, as was one of the cafeterias and several classroom buildings. Floodwaters and the loss of power destroyed much of the school’s library being destroyed when mold grew over most of the book collection.

“Everybody packed up and evacuated as best we could for Frances. But then Jeanne came and did the whole neighborhood in,” said Karolyne Lucero, the yearbook adviser at St. Edwards. “I still have kids that don’t have homes. All the weakness was there from the first storm that hit us, and it just couldn’t hold.”

The fallout left the St. Edwards yearbook staff without its computer lab. Luckily, the department purchased 10 laptop computers this year, which were easily kept safe during the storms. Now, the majority of the yearbook work is being done on those laptops, in a makeshift setup in one of the school’s old art rooms.

“When we started back to work, we realized that the laptops couldn’t cut it. We had to go back and do what we could to recover some of the main machines,” said Lucero. “The room we’re in now was never wired before. We’re running everything off one hub.”

A daily struggle

While life at school has been severely disrupted, the home life of many students has been damaged as well. Many students and their families were late returning to school in September, since they had evacuated. Others were left with no power in their homes for weeks, and tragically, many had their homes destroyed.

The entire situation has led many of the yearbook advisers to handle certain situations differently than they might in a normal year, knowing that many of their students are still living in temporary homes.

“You prioritize things differently. You understand that everyone’s family is the priority. If there’s a deadline, and we miss it, I’m not going to lose sleep. We’ll just keep working hard and do the best that we can,” said Craig Bell, the yearbook adviser at Port Charlotte High School in Port Charlotte, Florida. “I try to make the kids feel as normal as possible, because they go home and they have a blue tarp on as their roof. If somebody is having a bad day, you have to empathize.”

At Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Florida, yearbook adviser Kelli Foreman said the staff has been helped by their decision to do a chronological book, a very fortuitous break in a bizarre year.

“It’s certainly been less stressful just doing things as they come, and just chronicling them in order,” said Foreman. “We’ve been able to show how things have changed and where we’re going. It’s going to be a good book. These kids lived it.”

One common sentiment conveyed by all the advisers involved in the storms is the pride they have in their students, who continue to show up for the yearbook work despite all the distractions.

“The kids have been amazing. They’ve stayed late to get the work done,” said Earhart, the adviser at Eau Gallie. “Any free time they have during the day, they’re in the office getting things done.”

The odd couple

When Hurricane Charley forged its way up through the Gulf of Mexico and hit the western coast of Florida in mid-August, the situation quickly became tragic when the storm struck land. Charlotte County, located south of Tampa/St. Petersburg, was rocked with devastation and millions of dollars of damage. Port Charlotte High and Charlotte High were two of the schools in the path of the storm, and the results thrust them into a unique situation.

“It was a direct hit,” said Bell. “It pretty much wiped out a lot of the area.”

At Charlotte High, only the gym and performing arts center were still standing.

A contingency plan was quickly hatched, and the students and faculty from Charlotte High were moved across town to share school buildings with their archrivals at Port Charlotte High. Port Charlotte classes run from 6 a.m. until just before noon, then Charlotte classes are from noon until 6 p.m. Even though precautions were taken to make sure each group of students are not on campus at the same time, the situation has been strange for the two rival schools.

“It’s been fairly calm. There was some major concern about altercations for the first couple weeks, but things have worked out fine,” said Foreman.

From the yearbook perspective, both schools have been sharing the same room, with Bell’s kids doing all their work in the morning and Foreman’s students working in the afternoon. So far, both schools are on schedule and pleased with how their book coming along.

“What’s funny is that Craig and I were good friends before all this happened. Before the plan had been communicated or anything, I had already made arrangements with him to share their yearbook room,” said Foreman. “But it has been strange sharing the room with them, when the kids never really see each other.”

Needless to say, all of these yearbooks will have a great story to tell.

“Obviously, the hurricanes are a big part of the book,” said Lucero. “The kids already have the perspective that this is a year that they’re going to be telling their grandchildren about.”

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.