April 16, 2020 / Level Up

Level Up Update: Visiting Meridian High School

Written by Jenica Hallman, CJE

Think back to early March. It may seem a lifetime ago, though in reality it was only a couple of weeks. School was still in session. There was no quarantine. No one thought to wear facemasks, and toilet paper could be easily found on the well-stocked shelves of your nearest supermarket. It was during this time that Mike Taylor, CJE, went to visit our Level Up winner, Meridian High School, for their first in-person visit on a cold Thursday afternoon.

The visit began with a discussion of expectations and a podcast – be sure to listen to the podcast at walsworthyearbooks.com/podcasts – before they moved on to looking at some of the staff’s work.

“This is a fall delivery book, so a lot had not actually been committed to paper,” Taylor said. “We discussed the cover and made a few tweaks, then it was ready for their rep, Lori Mortland, CJE, to turn in.”

They continued by tackling the endsheets and opening theme pages, adding some 2020 design inspiration. One simple change Taylor feels will have major impact is the introduction of columns and grids. He gave the staff a lesson on how to use them, and as a group, they applied those concepts to the opening pages.

“Mike was insanely helpful,” Meridian adviser Sheila Moore said. “We walked through our book on a big-screen, and Mike gave his honest feedback. As a group, we talked with him about necessary changes and how to try some different concepts. One staff member made these changes on the big screen, and the group talked about what they liked/didn’t like. We loved that all team members were on the same page, guided by the same knowledge. As a club, it’s difficult to find the time for all members to be together, working on the same concept. We learned how important this practice was to the cohesiveness of the group.”

After a dinner break in the school cafeteria full of food, videos, new Level Up raps and TikTok dance parties – videos guaranteed to brighten anyone’s day with their sweet dance moves – they were back to work, incorporating Taylor’s advice and tailoring (no pun intended) their layouts accordingly.

“Most of the changes were to design,” Moore said. “We had a lot of mods that were the same basic size and shape. We ended up designing some new elements to use with our spreads.”

Mortland recognized their struggles as common themes that many schools experience.

“[They were] trying too hard to include graphics from their cover on EVERY spread. Mike showed them ways to work the theme graphics in without it being overdone,” Mortland said. “Mike covered design and style concepts they can use this year and in future books.”

“The biggest change we made was structuring the book to tell a story,” Taylor said, mentioning that the staff and book were already impressive. “They have very strong photo, as [staff members] Robert and Gabby had taken some classes at national JEA and Illinois state JEA events.”

Friday started with doughnuts and drinks from Starbucks.

“Most of the morning I worked with individual groups to get as many of them to understand using white space, type and strong photos as possible,” Taylor said. “As a staff, we then built some showstopper spreads, mods and headline designs. Finally, we recorded a video for the school and the second part of my podcast before leaving.”

“I feel the design of the book has come a long way,” Taylor said. “The staff and adviser are very excited, and all are working toward making the book the best possible.”

Mortland agreed with Taylor.

“This group has been open to anything that’s thrown at them. They’re able to accept feedback, assess it and apply it in their own way like no staff I’ve ever seen before … The atmosphere is always one of continued improvement and complete trust in those they’re working with,” Mortland said. “I have yet to see anything stand in the way of a goal this group sets!”

But while the visit was productive, uncertainty still loomed about the future of the school year among growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We currently have the same issue most schools probably are experiencing,” Moore said. “We are trying to work together to design spreads for seasons/events which may never happen. My staff have attended all of the [Walsworth] webinars and are implementing almost all of the advice.”

Taylor and the Meridian staff knew they had an obligation to tell the whole story of the year. But being a fall delivery book meant they counted on the final months of school photograph events and create much of their content. Like many other schools, they were left wondering, what do we do now?

“One thing that he did which was helpful was to look through our photography and maximize on opportunities we had missed. He found ways to develop coverage we hadn’t thought about. That knowledge has been tremendously helpful as we struggle to cover students while we aren’t at school.

Mortland recognizes that Taylor’s valuable design recommendations are the natural result of his pragmatic, problem-solving approach he takes to evaluating a yearbook and its staff.

“They love Mike and appreciate his honesty and his willingness to look for solutions with them,” Mortland said.

After conversations with Taylor and the advice heard on the recent Walsworth webinars, Meridian stepped up their sales campaign to new digital heights.

“Based on the webinars last week, we have promotions planned for each day over the next two weeks. We started last night with the Animoto video, then we are releasing one spread today and tagging all students who appear.”

The staff created video commercials like this and this with Animoto, uploaded spreads to social media, tagging all students who appeared in it, hosted Instagram Live events like Instagram Scavenger hunts. They had a 16-day targeted marketing campaign from April 5-20 to reach out to their student body and build awareness of the yearbook program. These are unprecedented steps they are taking for an unprecedented time, but the effort is well worth it to them because they know the value of the product they are creating. They know every student deserves to remember ALL of the 2020 school year.

“This adviser is one to watch for the future,” Mortland said. “She’s committed to making this program the best it can be, and her staff sees that. This is a school of under 300 students. This is an extra-curricular group. Sheila Moore is proving every day what I’ve known for years: a program’s success level is set by the adviser.”

The visit proved extremely beneficial, and Meridian looks forward to their continued journey to Level Up their yearbook.

“Between Elite Weekend and Level-Up, we’ve learned so much that we didn’t already know,” Moore said. “These two items, single-handedly, have been the most important training we’ve received.”

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Jenica Hallman, CJE
Jenica Hallman, CJE

Jenica Hallman, CJE, is an Associate Copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks. Yearbooks got into her blood in high school, and she has been pursuing them ever since. She has worked in various capacities as a high school and college yearbook editor, an adviser, sales representative, plant customer service representative and now in marketing, her favorite role to date. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mass media communications from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.