April 16, 2007 / Spring 2007 / Staff Management

Breakthrough Experiences

Written by Idea File Staff

Improvement in a yearbook happens in different ways. Some advisers and staff members make a great leap in the quality of their yearbook from one school year to the next because of an “aha moment,” that second when they realize how to break through and take their book in a new and improved direction.

Yearbooks at all levels can have a breakthrough experience, because there is always something new to learn or try. And while each experience can be different, they share one characteristic — the┬árenewed dedication of the adviser and yearbook staff.

A source of pride

The 2005 Oracle at Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville, Fla., was so poorly done, some students asked for refunds, said Leah Polkowski.A history teacher and swim coach, she agreed to be adviser for the 2006 yearbook after a few students who were on both the swim team and yearbook staff asked her. The first thing she did was to attend a summer workshop with the 2006 editor, Amanda Brace.

“We learned that other yearbooks were very different from ours. They had stories, action photography. Our school didn’t think yearbooks had writing in them, just stupid captions. We were inspired,” Polkowski said.

When school started, Polkowski and Brace explained to the yearbook class what they learned at the workshop. Then, the class learned by doing – covering and writing stories and
creating layouts, and reworking them until the editors were satisfied. There were a lot of late nights last year.

This year, the staff continued to improve by doing, Polkowski said. They looked at other yearbooks for ideas. They wrote the stories, and two editors designed the pages for consistency and because there are only two computers. Late nights have been minimal.

The Oracle staff had obstacles to overcome to improve their yearbook. Many students attending Jackson, an 80-year-old urban school, could not afford to attend a workshop, which would limit learning. They needed to change their idea of a yearbook and improve their writing, coverage and photography. But the staff overcame these obstacles because they were ready for a change.

“They (the seniors on staff) wanted a part of our school that wasn’t lame,” she said. “They wanted something that they could be proud of.”

Polkowski said they are proud of the 176-page, hard-cover 2006 Oracle, and have worked hard to create an even better book for 2007.

Convention is vital

The breakthrough book for the Isla also was the 2006 book, said Rose Gifford, adviser at Mercer Island High School in Mercer Island, Wash.

“The designs were so much better. The writing was so much better,” Gifford said.

What made the difference was attending a national convention. Gifford took the yearbook and newspaper editors to the JEA/NSPA convention in Chicago in November 2005. She said the light bulb went off in her students.

“They attended classes and learned more than I knew. They realized the ideas we were going with weren’t correct,” she said. “Going to convention, we got to see all of these other schools’ books. In the past, we only had our books to look at, not the caliber of what we saw at the convention.”

She said her yearbook staff had been putting too many photos on a page and putting color everywhere. They learned about dominant images and using color as a design element, a good lesson since the book went all-color in 2006.

Coverage also changed. Homecoming used to consist of large images of each court member. Now, coverage focused on the events of the week. On the sports pages, they focused on individuals and getting quotes, and put the team and group photos in their own section in the back of the book.

Gifford said attending a national convention was “vital” to her and her students. She plans to take students to the fall JEA convention every year because the timing enables her staff to get ideas that can be used for that year’s book.

They also took home the idea of entering a national contest, and learned some of the nuances of award-winners, such as having the yearbook’s name on the cover, something that had not been done for years. The staff is learning the contest process with the 2007 Isla, “probably the highest quality book that we’ve ever put out,” Gifford said.

New Design Approach

Decamhian, a perennial nationally award-winning yearbook from Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, Calif., experienced a breakthrough to a new level when the staff moved from using templates for spread design to one designer producing customized spreads for the 2005 book.

Del Campo adviser Jim Jordan credited Crystal Kazmierski and her Wings staff at Arrowhead Christian Academy, Redlands, Calif., with first using the customized design approach in its 2002 yearbook.

“There is nobody trying to do it who hasn’t seen it (Wings 2002),” Jordan said. “We didn’t do it for a couple of years because we had to have a good designer.”

The designer appeared on the 2005 staff, so they took the plunge. Jordan guessed there are probably only 15 to 20 schools using the concept.

“This level of quality can’t be done in the context of the school day,” Jordan said, explaining that his staff works six to eight hours a day.

Jordan said for a yearbook program to be successful, three things are needed from the adviser and the staff: time, commitment and great attention to detail.

“You have to count the cost of the time it’s going to take to do the work,” he said. “That’s one thing that has made my students successful, not just slopping stuff down to make a deadline. For my kids, it’s that meticulous attention to detail that’s made the difference.”

And advisers need to remember that yearbook is a learning experience.

“The yearbook experience is all about watching your kids grow and (doing) an amazing level of quality and amazing stuff that they are proud of,” Jordan said.

Idea File Staff

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