The right mix
Written by Idea File Staff
Broaden coverage and perspective with the right variety of staffers.
Sandy Masson has counted before, and the last time she checked, there were 37 languages represented among the students at her school – Grace King High School in Metairie, La.
As the yearbook adviser at Grace King, that puts Masson in an enviable position. Her school is a melting pot, and the yearbook staff is typically a reflection of that – a mixture of kids who are male, female, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and many other ethnicities. Masson’s diverse journalism room reflects well on the coverage in the school’s yearbook.
“For one thing, it tends to make the kids in yearbook pay attention to other kids that they normally might not pay as much attention to,” said Masson. “Like when they’re looking for someone to interview for stories. I think certain minority groups end up getting represented in the book better than they might otherwise.”
A school like Grace King is probably the ideal to Norma Kneese, the chair of the Journalism Education Association’s (JEA) multicultural commission, which has been working 10 years to bring more ethnic diversity to scholastic publications.
“It started at the national conventions where we noticed that the attendance was mostly white students,” Kneese said. “There were obviously minority students out there, but they were not coming on staffs, even in schools that had a higher minority population.”
The commission has started several initiatives, including an outreach program that encourages minority advisers to attend conventions with their staffs and the development of curriculum and other educational materials that promote diversity, all of which have proven to be somewhat successful.
However, diversity in the journalism classroom can go beyond ethnicity. Kneese makes that point at Snake River High School in Blackfoot, Idaho, where she is yearbook and newspaper adviser in a school with 90% white students.
“I always try to bring in students with different interests and different backgrounds,” said Kneese. “If you bring in students with other social interests, or other sports interests, it’s going to give your publication different perspectives.”
So how do you attract a student to the yearbook staff who otherwise wouldn’t be interested?
“My biggest pitch is I ask them if they want to be part of an elite group that is the voice of the school,” said Kneese. “I tell them, if you want to be part of change, here is your chance.”
Helen Schneider has only been the yearbook adviser at Randallstown High School in Randallstown, Md., for three years and a teacher for five years. When she decided to try her hand at yearbook, she quickly fell in love with the class, particularly, molding the different personalities of a staff into a cohesive unit.
At Randallstown, yearbook is a class where Schneider does not get to “recruit” students to join the staff. So each year, she must quickly get to know and analyze the personalities of her students and determine who will best fit what roles, and who will best work well together.
Once the blend of personalities is right, and the kids begin working on the book, Schneider said the discussion about coverage reflects the point to not make a book “from the jock perspective, or the pretty girl perspective, or the knucklehead perspective.
“I tell them to go talk to people they haven’t talked to before. I make them go interview somebody they don’t know,” said Schneider.
According to Masson, the way a staff interacts in the yearbook room and the dynamics that come about from the personalities and the backgrounds of the kids is often essential, not just to the success of the book, but to the overall learning experience.
“When you don’t have the mix, something is missing. You need the mix,” said Masson. “When you have different kinds of kids in a class, you can really change a kid. It can broaden a child’s perspective.”