Schmitz ready to help new advisers get confident at Academy

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

As Walsworth’s 2018 Adviser Academy approaches this July in Kansas City, the Yearbooks Blog will get you ready for the event with a new Inside Look at the Academy through a series of Q&As with the instructors.

First-year advisers attending the 2018 Adviser Academy can rest assured they will be in good hands when they walk into their track classes. Instructor Sabrina Schmitz, CJE, a Walsworth yearbook rep in Florida, is only a few years removed from being an award-winning adviser.

This summer will be the fourth year that Schmitz has served as an instructor at Adviser Academy. Before joining Walsworth Yearbooks, Schmitz spent eight years at J.W. Mitchell High School in New Port Richey, Florida, where she taught journalism and advised the yearbook and newspaper.

During Schmitz’s time as adviser at Mitchell, the yearbook won CSPA Gold and Silver Crowns and an NSPA Pacemaker award, and she was recognized as a District Teacher of the Year Finalist. She took a few minutes to chat with us about her time as an adviser and looking forward to this year’s Academy.

How did you become a yearbook adviser?

I went to school for journalism, which I loved, and wanted to teach and wanted to advise the newspaper staff. And then [administrators at J.W. Mitchell] asked me if I would be willing to help with the yearbook, and I kind of shadowed the adviser I took over for, for a semester and then told her, “No, I don’t want to do this. It’s too much work.” And then she left in the middle of the year, and they’re like, “Congratulations, you’re doing it anyway!” So I did it, and it’s turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

When you reflect back to that first year you were an adviser, what do you remember being the most difficult challenges?

I think organization was one of the biggest ones. I felt like there were two parts of it. I wanted it to be a student-run publication, but I was also still learning how to make a yearbook. So, you’re kind of learning it with the students. And that’s always kind of a tough balance to strike. In other subject areas, you’re always ahead of where your kids are. You know exactly what’s coming down the pike and where you’re trying to get your students to in English and math and other core subjects; but when you’re a first-year teacher in yearbook, you’re basically right alongside them. We’re learning this together, so sometimes you can’t answer their questions. You have to go find the answer.

Did you always envision yourself as a teacher?

Kind of. I always worked with students. I did a lot of counseling with teenage girls when I was in college. I knew I loved working with kids. I worked at a youth ranch. I knew I loved that part and knew I always wanted that to be a part of my life, and then I got involved in journalism and fell in love with that too; so teaching and advising a publication was the best of both worlds. It was everything I loved about teaching and writing and design and storytelling, paired with being able to work with kids and impact them on a day-to-day basis.

Looking at it from the side of a yearbook rep, do you feel the job of being a yearbook adviser has changed much these last few years?

Some of the bigger challenges that advisers are dealing with now is schedule. Getting kids to have the time to buy in and do the work. It was starting to get bad when I was still advising, and now I feel like students are pulled in so many different directions that trying to get the right kids on your staff and having those kids have the time in their day to be able to do the work to produce a really great book, that seems to be an extra challenge advisers are having to deal with. Because as an adviser at a lot of programs, you want a certain type of kid to be on your staff. You want the best kids on campus to be on your yearbook staff, but those are also the kids that are pulled in 50 million other directions. It’s hard to get those kids to value being on yearbook staff.

When you were an adviser, how did you convince those kids to join yearbook?

I’m a big proponent of building yearbook culture on campus. Which means that the yearbook staff isn’t just a staff that sits in their room, on the corner of campus, and just harasses people for pictures and quotes every now and again. I was a big proponent of having my staff be a part of everything that was happening on campus. So, it gave us a very visual presence, people knew who the yearbook kids were, they were at every event. The staff went to the spring musical and we went to the first football game, as a group. It was fun for my kids to hang out together, and have staff bonding time, but it was also nice because other teachers and clubs felt like the yearbook was supporting them. So, when we needed something from those teachers and students, they were much more willing to help us out. Because the yearbook staff had such a visible presence on campus, and people saw us having fun all the time, and doing goofy stuff and playing games, that made it easier for me to recruit.

What can new advisers expect from your track at Adviser Academy?

I was very lucky to walk into a well-run program, and the adviser whom I took over for laid everything out for me. And when I had questions, she was always there for me to call her and talk to her about stuff. That helped me a lot. I know there are some advisers who get, “Here’s the yearbook. Good luck! Have fun!” That can be a scary thing, because it’s going out to the entire community and it’s something everyone’s going to see. A lot of advisers go into it and they don’t even know what to ask. They don’t even know where to begin. “What’s the first thing I should be thinking about that I haven’t even thought about yet?” The track one class at Adviser Academy is really there to help kind of get them set on the right path, so they know what to do and when to do it and what things they should be thinking about. But it’s also to make them feel comfortable doing the job so that they love doing the job. I want people to walk out of there feeling confident and comfortable with what they have to do.

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Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is the Marketing Automation Supervisor for Walsworth. He's been a writer, editor and web content specialist for Walsworth for the past 15+ years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.