May 6, 2010 / News

Welcome to America – and the yearbook staff

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

The phrase “as American as apple pie” is used to describe something unique to our country. But the phrase also could be changed to “as American as yearbooks.” The yearbook concept started at U.S. schools almost 150 years ago, and has not ventured far from our shores.

Some foreign exchange students who have decided to immerse themselves in life in the United States for a year have also taken on the challenge of working on the yearbook staff at their American school.

Michelle Kanne, 17, from Sweden, knew about yearbooks before attending Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., and she signed up for yearbook class because she wanted to take it. She said the most difficult part of her job is identifying people in photos, since she does not know a lot of people.


Several international exchange students worked on the yearbook staff this year at Windermere Prep School in Florida. A yearbook spread from their 2010 book can be seen here.

Kim Liebig, a 17-year old from Germany, also requested the yearbook class at Graham High School in Graham, Texas, because she is interested in photography. Liebig said her school at home had a yearbook two years ago.

“But it was for sure nothing compared to the ones y’all have here in America,” Liebig said.

Liebig said that sometimes she has to ask for help with sentence structure, but otherwise she has encountered few difficulties.

Sampsa Llmarinpoika Poyhonen, 17, from Finland, is attending DeLand High School in DeLand, Fla., this year. He had never heard of yearbooks and was placed in the class, where he is working on ads. Poyhonen said yearbook class has not been easy for him, admitting he often works “slow” and lamenting miscues such as the time he lost his work on the computer and had to redo everything.

Poyhonen and Liebig said it would be difficult to take the yearbook concept back home. Their schools do not have as many sports, clubs and activities to cover as their American schools, so the book would not be as interesting.

However, Kanne said she would like to take the idea home to Sweden.

“Last year of high school, in Sweden, we have a class that the students ‘make’ for themselves. You have guidance but you basically do everything yourself,” Kanne said. “I’m thinking of making mine a yearbook for my school. Not as big as the one’s here, but still…”

While these students are in class with American students who understand what a yearbook is, at Windermere Preparatory School in Windermere, Fla., yearbook had to be explained to several staff members on the first day of school.

An international prep school, Windermere has about 800 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, with about 280 high school students for the 2010 school year. Founded in 2000, Windermere began its boarding and International Baccalaureate programs this year, so a large number of international students and teachers are now on campus.

Jen McCartney, the first yearbook adviser for the first yearbook class at the school, said there are staff members from Germany, Turkey, Austria, China, France, Thailand, the Middle East and Brazil.

On the first day of school, McCartney showed her class several yearbooks so they could see what one looked like.

“Most everyone seemed impressed and I think a bit intimidated,” McCartney said. “A lot of the kids were placed in the class because they needed an additional academic elective, so I don’t think they knew what they were in for.”

Windermere has had a yearbook for a few years. For the 2009 school year, it was an after-school activity with one student creating the book – no adviser and no other staff members.

This is the first year the school has offered yearbook as a class with academic credit. McCartney taught the class for the first half of the year and Amanda Sparks-France took over in January. Even with the switch, the yearbook made it to print for spring delivery.

On the Windermere staff is Benni Gleich, 16, from Germany. He signed up for yearbook because he wanted to take pictures, but did not realize he would have to write. At Windermere, staff members are assigned spreads, and must take the photos, write the story and captions and design it.

“When I figured out that we have to work on the pages too I thought, that’s no fun at all, but then I started to work on my first page and it was really fun,” Gleich said.

The yearbook class has 20 students, and it was so popular that a yearbook club was formed, with an application process to keep club membership at a manageable 20 staffers.

Gleich said he would recommend the class to others who are interested in writing, photography and design. And he likes creating such a keepsake.

“It’s a great thing especially for exchange students and seniors because it combines all the good memories in one book. And when I go back to Germany, I’m going to keep it forever so I can look in it and just remember the great time I had here,” Gleich said.

One Response to “Welcome to America – and the yearbook staff”

May 06, 2010 at 2:45 pm, yearbookforever said:

Welcome to America – and the yearbook staff

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Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Elizabeth Braden, CJE, is the former editor of Idea File magazine. Before retiring, she was a copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks for more than 15 years, writing articles for various marketing materials, and proofreading copy for the Yearbook and Commercial divisions. Her career included reporting and editing for United Press International and editing for Knight-Ridder Financial News. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media News from the University of Tulsa.