Let staff learn, bond at yearbook workshops

Written by Lesley Hagelgans

Every fall, our annual trip to the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) Middle School Journalism Conference proves to be a memorable experience for everyone. I take my entire staff – usually 12-15 eighth grade students – and a couple of parents who help provide transportation. I have found that everyone involved with this experience – the students, their parents, our school and me – benefits in numerous ways.

The yearbook staff gains more from this trip than anyone involved. Knowledge that I have been trying to impart to my staff since the beginning of the year – such as how to take good photos, conduct interesting interviews, look for unique angles – is reinforced by the various speakers and presenters.

My students are exposed to new ideas, which spark creativity and breathe a fresh perspective into our book. The yearbook now incorporates great fund-raising ideas such as Buddy Pics and Page Sponsors as a result of this conference. We have also taken on the motto, “Our yearbook is not a Madlib; we don’t want it to look or sound like anyone else’s.” So the knowledge the staff gains at such a conference supplements their own education as well as benefits our school with a yearbook that is more reflective and unique to the school life that year.

The students also get a boost to their self esteem by knowing the administration at our school entrusts them to represent our school at a state-level conference. This is a responsibility the staff embraces with honor.

This experience also brings the group together on a personal level as they navigate the halls of Michigan State University in their matching sweatshirts, followed by a leisurely lunch at a local eatery. The annual article about the staff in our yearbook usually contains a reference to something memorable that happened at the MIPA conference, whether it was listening to an amazing speaker or something funny that happened at lunch.

Logistically, the staff members select what sessions they will be attending ahead of time. I check in with each staff member during the breaks to get feedback about the presentations and double-check to make sure they know where to go next. I have found the staff likes to travel in small groups, which helps with accountability.

The parents, who volunteer as the drivers, seem to enjoy watching their own students thrive in this new environment, and laugh and discuss right along with us at lunch, thus giving them an opportunity to learn about their own child and what it takes to publish a yearbook.

The time and monetary investment it takes to get my entire staff to this conference is a small price to pay for the wealth of knowledge and experience we get in return. Check your state and regional scholastic journalism organizations for area conferences and your yearbook sales representative for summer, fall and spring workshops.

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Lesley Hagelgans

Lesley Hagelgans is a language arts teacher and yearbook adviser at Marshall Middle School in Marshall, Michigan. She was co-editor of her high school newspaper in her junior and senior years. She enjoys yearbook because students are "all working on something different that interests them at any given time, which is a great platform for authentic learning."