Life one month at a time
Written by Idea File Staff
Covering the year chronologically is not as predominant as it once was, but there are good reasons for some schools to organize their yearbook coverage as events happen throughout the year.
At LaBelle High School, LaBelle, Fla., coverage is one of the reasons the staff is doing their third chronology yearbook in four years.
“We don’t have a school newspaper, but I feel my staff can be journalists. Being a fall delivery book, we can cover the whole year,” said Nan Akin, the adviser at LaBelle for eight years. “I feel the content is better.”
The Corral was done chronologically in the 2002 and 2004 books, and the decision was made to do it that way again for 2005. But there has been one big change. This year, coverage will be monthly. The previous two chronology books contained weekly coverage, a scenario which made it difficult for Akin’s small staff to meet deadlines.
For example, students had trouble taking, developing and turning in photos by deadline, especially with the film camera. Akins requires that photos be turned in the same week as the story. Students are not allowed to write a story, then get photos two weeks later.
“It’s not good journalism,” she said.
The 2004 yearbook, At a Glance, was photo-laden. Spreads were arranged with 21 photos and a sidebar with the happenings of the week listed Monday through Friday, a plan she tried to dissuade her staff from doing. Critiques of the book helped the staff develop design and coverage for this year.
“This year is going to be so much better,” she said. “This year there will be fewer photos per spread, with better quality stories and layout.”
The new digital camera will help, too, Akin said.
She always meets with her editors during the summer, but LaBelle’s chronological coverage demands the staff be ready on the first day of school to report on what is happening in the lives of their readers. Akin said the most difficult times are the first month of school and the first month after winter break.
“If you want to start from August, from the first day of school, you have to be ready to jump in,” Akin said.
With the shift to monthly coverage, the program has been running smoothly, since students have longer deadlines. The staff works as a team, starting with monthly meetings to determine upcoming coverage. Each student also fills out a plan sheet, with details on the events they are covering, story angles, possible headlines, possible photos, and interview questions. The staff discusses school and community events to include in the book, and space is allotted depending on the importance of each item. This also allows for flexibility for changes if something big happens, like when the 9/11 terrorists attacks occurred.
Four spreads are devoted for each month of school, starting in August. The coverage is divided into “during school,” “after school” and “sports” within the four spreads. No sports or academic sections appear in the book, but this format provides plenty of sports and academics coverage, Akin said.
The Corral will be 240 pages this year, considered a small yearbook in Florida, with 90 pages dedicated to student life, including academics and sports. “It’s quality coverage,” she said.
The yearbook also includes a 12-page section for homecoming, which this year will be placed in the month of November, the class portrait and senior sections, and team and club photos at the end of the book in the index.
In addition to improved coverage, chronological coverage works better with the student staffing situation at LaBelle. Editors are returning students, but Akin gets almost a new staff each semester and yearly. Akin believes the turnover is caused partly by the school’s block schedule, which limits the electives offered. Also in Florida, seniors can take executive internship and go to jobs. With yearbook being fourth hour, seniors who want to take the class have to return to school for that period, and many would choose not to.
LaBelle is among the smaller high schools in Florida, with a student population of approximately 1,000 students in grades 9 through 12. In the fall 2004 semester, Akin has 14 people in yearbook class. Ten of them work specifically on the book, while four of them handle ad sales. She did have two returning staffers this year, and both agree they like this system, she said.
Akin said being a fall delivery book has inherent advantages, such as school year is covered until the last bell rings, and the dilemma of what to do in class after the last deadline in the spring is solved. And it has not been too difficult to get students to pick up their yearbooks in August.
“If you can get the community and the administration to back you, try to get a fall delivery book,” said Akin, who has done fall delivery for seven of her eight years as adviser.
“I wouldn’t go back. The class runs smoothly. They always have something to do,” she said.
She seems to have community support, as the parents really like the chronological coverage.
“We got so many compliments from parents because they were like, wow, this will be great for our kids to look back on.”