Covering the shape of your student body
Written by Idea File Staff
Yearbook coverage is generally defined as the happenings at one school during one year. But what is a school? Sometimes a high school is one school with grades on separate campuses, or one school includes preschool through seniors in one or many buildings.
These situations present challenges to the yearbook staffs that cover their schools, no matter how they are arranged, in one yearbook. The differences in student ages and distances between buildings can be barriers to providing uniform coverage of the entire school. But that does not prevent yearbook staffs from producing the yearbook.
Three schools with one yearbook are presented here: a seven-building, preschool-through-grade-12 school; a two-campus high school; and two high schools.
Consider covering this: Harding Academy in Memphis, Tenn., has 1,200 students on seven campuses: two early childhood, two kindergarten/elementary, one kindergarten, one elementary and one grades 7-12. The campuses range from next door to the high school to 11 miles away.
Adviser Lisa Lockhart said when she took over the yearbook four years ago, the book focused primarily on the middle school and high school, with a small elementary section. The previous adviser and her staffs covered that section by emailing each early childhood, kindergarten and elementary teacher for pictures, story ideas, student identification and corrections.
“…too many emails for me. And certainly not conducive to attempting to cover anything more than the bare minimum where those satellite campuses were concerned,” Lockhart said.
So last year Lockhart initiated “The Tour,” in which the staff of about 10 students visits every campus in one day, taking 15 to 20 minutes in each class to meet and talk with students, take pictures and gather information. When the tour date is set, she notifies the teachers and encourages them to plan some special activity or something that they do on a regular basis that shows the character of the class – something other than desk work.
Lockhart acknowledges that the tour schedule is tight.
“I send students in pairs to the classes so that the staff member assigned to the page can do the interviewing and story gathering while the assistant takes pictures and helps identify students and gathers information from the teacher. We also do a division page for each location, so there are staffers wandering the entire location getting an overview for that spread.”
Before the tour was instituted, Lockhart said she and her staff grumbled about elementary coverage. “But when we got back from “The Tour,” each person had stories to tell about students and activities that stood out to them. One student even commented, ‘I was only there for a few minutes before I had a real feeling for the personality of the class!'” she said.
The staff still communicates with the teachers at the other campuses after the tour, for such items as verification of names for panel pages. For panel pictures, each campus has its own picture day, but retakes are done at only two locations, which causes problems with making sure children are placed in their correct class.
Another aspect of yearbook that could be a problem at Harding is distribution, but Lockhart credits the office staff with making it work.
“Someone in the business office sends me a list of how many students ordered books with their enrollment; the elementary secretary compiles a list of satellite faculty who want books; and I get a list from our campus faculty. When the books come in, these office staffs help determine how many books go to each campus, and the facilities department graciously loads them onto trucks and delivers them.”
The benefits of creating one yearbook for a multi-campus, multi-grade school touch both the staffs and the students.
Mostly, the tour experience was tremendous.
“There seems to be real value in their going to a fairly unfamiliar place to talk to people they don’t know in order to gather information in a highly condensed period of time. If nothing else, it develops some vital organizational and interpersonal skills,” Lockhart said.
“But my wise staff suggested some benefits I hadn’t considered. As older elementary students, they enjoyed looking through the middle school/high school sections of the book: it gave them something to look forward to and some idea of what to expect when they arrived at the Big Campus. They say that they also looked at the students in their grade at the other locations to see who would be in their classes when they all converged in seventh grade. It’s one of those unity-building projects.”
Separate but equal
Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Ill., has two campuses about one mile apart, with 2,100 freshmen and sophomores at the South Campus, and 1,800 juniors and seniors at the North Campus. The yearbook staff is made up of juniors and seniors, so the challenge is readily apparent.
“We try diligently, and set it as one of three major goals last year, to cover South Campus thoroughly, but because my students have to drive their own cars, which are very limited due to parking issues, during 10th period to try to get stories and pictures or capture an underclassman participating at a high level in an activity, we don’t have nearly the SC coverage we’d like to,” said Tim Spitsberg, yearbook adviser.
Spitsberg is philosophical in trying to accomplish balanced coverage. He said the staff ‘s coverage strategy has helped with this issue, in moving from a strictly “journalistic” mode to what he calls “organic” in coverage.
“To cover what’s interesting, unusual, surprising, not immediately obvious, instead of the same old stuff about teamwork, overcoming adversity, and how much seniors rock. Upperclassmen do, and probably should, have more coverage because they tend to be more or the most heavily involved, but we try to avoid each year’s book being only for the seniors,” Spitsberg said. “We tend to have quite a bit of coverage, three to four spreads, more or less, about the differences between North and South, the jump between campuses, etc.”
But being in the South Campus is not the only way to include freshmen and sophomores. Quotes from members of these classes appear in articles about school events such as homecoming, the Variety Show, plays, clubs and sports teams. Searching for the freshmen and sophomores in the reporting of these events aids in overcoming the coverage issue.
Spitsberg said his staff also attempts to maintain balanced coverage by keeping a ‘hit list’ of which students and grade levels have been over-covered and which have been under-covered.
In addition to those spreads on the differences between the campuses, the 2007 Tabulae demonstrated the successful reporting efforts at covering the South Campus with feature articles on a teacher who teachers at both campuses; a nationally ranked freshman tennis player, a rock band of sophomore students; sophomore health class; and a sophomore’s goal to be a fashion designer.
Spitsberg does see benefits to this two-campus scenario. “I think that in a perverse way the difficulties of underclassmen coverage here are always in the backs, if not fronts, of our minds. It keeps us perhaps more honest and more aware of the difficulties and trying harder than we might be in a ‘normal’ school,” he said.
Splitting student bodies
The questions of what is a school and what should a yearbook cover have interesting answers in Smithtown, N.Y., where three years ago, Smithtown High School East and Smithtown High School West became separate high schools each with about 1,600 students in grades 9-12.
Their past, when there was one high school, still influences both. While each school has its own yearbook, adviser and staff, some coverage and tasks are combined. There are several reasons for this: coverage is similar for both schools, the yearbook is now extra-curricular and not a class, and reader expectations.
Regarding coverage, it is more than just the events are the same – the teams are the same. Nine teams have students from both schools on the same team – girls gymnastics, and boys and girls swimming, cross country, winter track and bowling.
“Most sports are different but we do have some combined teams. With the combined teams we try to change the picture to depict the seniors of the respective campuses,” said Dennis Kramer, adviser at Smithtown East.
Kramer said that this year, the two staffs have been working more closely together.
“I do not know about others schools but it is getting increasingly difficult to get great staffs when it is a volunteer activity. Most good students are pressed thin. Sports after school, work and applying to college can really put a cramp into your staff. Most students do not understand that a yearbook has to be done by February to allow them to receive it in June,” Kramer said.
Kramer said the staffing situation has made it more necessary to share page design, just changing colors or photos to reflect the school.
“The collaboration is done by the adviser knowing where each book is going and where the help can come from. I bring the good work from one school over to the other and show that with a little change it could work for both schools. Example – the design of the opening pages are the same for both schools but the pictures are different,” said Kramer, who teams with Craig Boehner, adviser at Smithtown West, to produce both books.
“We are now maintaining a library of designed pages from previous yearbooks, and when we have a problem with a page and a deadline is near, we can do some minor editing to complete the page,” Kramer said.
Some years, the strength of the staffs in each school differs, he said. So the advisers have taken a staff member with a particular talent and let him do that job for both yearbooks.
“Sometimes one school has a person who excels at a senior section and at the other school you have a person who can design better. We let them help each other out,” Kramer said.
This year, they also have one student in charge of senior ads. While the senior portraits from both schools will go into both books, the senior ads are run in the book for the school each senior attends. So there exists the hurdle of ensuring that the right senior ads get in the correct book. And that staff member is helping to make sure the ads are correctly placed.
“When the ad comes in, it’s checked against the senior class list by myself and the yearbook staffer. When ads are completed, they are read twice by staffers in each school, to check for mistakes,” Kramer said.
The readers also have expectations, starting with the seniors.
“This is the first year of the total split. And there will be two yearbooks. We will have the seniors of both campuses in each others’ yearbook, but not the underclassman,” Kramer said. Kramer said that students are used to seeing certain pictures, stories and coverage in their yearbooks.
“Change comes hard. They like their pages like last year’s. So our ladder does not change much.
“It’s funny, it is hard to change tradition even if it’s a better idea. The students expect the yearbook like it was the previous years. When we took it over we had to make change slowly. We still feel we have a long way to go but our changes have been positive.”