Yearbook Advisers of Note: Meet Jason Davis
Written by Jim Jordan
Jason Davis has had quite the journey. He grew up in Minnesota, but now lives in Arizona. His first job was as a fry cook in his family’s restaurant, then as a professional journalist, and now is a teacher. He had no yearbook experience when he started advising, but how has one of the best middle school/junior high yearbook programs in the country.
You can read about his journey below. For even more, check out his interview on the latest episode of Yearbook Chat with Jim.
Cactus Canyon Junior High School
High school attended? Minnewaska Area High School (it’s officially in Glenwood, Minnesota, but I am from Starbuck, Minnesota)
College attended? St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota
Did you participate in journalism in high school? I didn’t participate in high school, but I’ve always loved to read newspapers. I played multiple sports and worked two jobs in high school, so I guess I thought I was too busy. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it.
Did you participate in journalism in college? I worked at the University Chronicle in college. My first year I was a general reporter, but in my second year I was on the women’s basketball beat.
Were you ever a professional journalist? I worked at the St. Cloud Times during college and covered high school sports. I was the kid in the press box that looked younger than most of the players on the field. I worked in other departments during the summer. I later worked at the Apache Junction Independent doing a little bit of everything.
What jobs did you hold after college before you became a teacher and a yearbook adviser? When I moved to Arizona, I was the office manager at a nonprofit called Easter Seals for a few years before I worked at the Independent.
Number of pages in your book in 2022: 112
Indesign or Online Design? We use Yearbook 360/Online Design
Student Population: About 550
Number of book sold in 2021: 200
Awards for 2019, 2020 or 2021 books:
2019 – Pacemaker Finalist, Silver Crown
2020 – Pacemaker, Silver Crown
2021 – Pacemaker Finalist, Silver Crown
All three books earned CSPA Gold Medalist and NSPA All-American rating.
Number of books you have advised at Cactus Canyon, including the 2022 book? 13
Other schools you have taught and/or advised at? Cactus Canyon is the only place I’ve ever taught, although it was called Desert Shadows Middle School for my first four years.
Other classes you teach at Cactus Canyon: I have two sections of Journalism 1 and two sections of Computer Science, which teaches Python coding. (I’ve had to teach myself so I can teach the kids.)
Other publications you advise: None right now, but we used to have an online newspaper that won two Gold and two Silver Crowns.
How and why did you decide to go into teaching?
Teaching was always something that interested me. I was about 26 when I finally decided to give it a try.
What were the circumstances around you becoming an adviser?
I started a newspaper club in my second year and we printed an actual newspaper. After two years of the club, I asked if I could have it as a class and they told me I could only do that if I also took on the yearbook. The newspaper was my main focus for several years, but I gradually fell in love with yearbook.
What was the most difficult part of your first year advising?
I literally knew nothing about yearbook. I didn’t know the vocabulary, the software, or how to get what I needed from pretty much anyone. It felt impossible.
What made you want to come back for year two?
Mostly, I wanted to keep the newspaper going, but I figured yearbook would be a little easier once I’d done it for a year. I don’t think I was right about that; it eventually got easier, but it wasn’t in year two.
What advice would you give to a first-year adviser?
Get all the training you can and find people that can help. It took me a long time to learn what goes into making a good yearbook and I wish I’d known sooner. At the same time, go at your own pace. As you build your program, celebrate every success and treat it like the big deal that it is, rather than a step to something bigger.
What were some of the factors that have led your success as an adviser over the years?
First and foremost, it’s building relationships with the kids. They are the ones that do the work and they choose to do it. There are much easier electives, so I try to remind them often that I appreciate them. I’m not great at saying it, so usually, it’s with snacks.
My journalism background has also helped a lot. It gave even our earliest books a strong foundation, even if they weren’t award-winning. Once I realized how cool the yearbook world really was, I dove in headfirst. I learned everything I could as fast as I could and having that background gave me a head start on learning the ropes.
What has been your biggest challenge as an adviser?
One of my biggest challenges has been balancing yearbook with my other classes and my family life. Building a yearbook program with so much going on, it feels like nothing ever gets my full attention for long. I’m still working on my time management skills, finding ways to make it all run more smoothly, and remembering that sometimes you just have to stop working and go home.
2020 – 2021 books
How did Covid-19 directly affect you and your staff?
Other than a few weeks of in-person learning in November, we were remote until March. Everything we could do was so much more difficult and there was always the worry of, “will we be able to do this? Will we have to redo that?”
What were the biggest challenges in 2020 and 2021 and how did you solve them?
Yearbook should not be done in a Zoom room. I had a lot of new kids on staff and it was just hard to build our team. Like most schools, we didn’t have an opportunity to do any summer planning, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, I had a group of editors that was willing to put in a lot of time after class and really took ownership of the book.
We also went to summer delivery so we could cover all of our in-person time. We had done a lot of work in Zoom school, but we ended up having more in-person events than we planned and basically re-did the whole book in about eight weeks. The kids worked so hard and I get more impressed with what they did as time goes on.
Junior High/Middle School Advising
What are some of the biggest challenges of junior high / middle school advising? How have you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges for me is starting from scratch every year. I only have the kids for two years, but I actually recruit a lot of kids from my J1 class, so they don’t get a full year of yearbook training and planning before taking on leadership roles. It’s fun because every group is different and there are new challenges every year, but it seems like just when I get them trained and ready to run the world they’re off to high school.
What advice would you give to a junior high / middle school who wants to build an award-winning yearbook program?
I know I said this before, but you have to go at your own pace. For me, I was learning a lot about making a good book, but I also had to figure out how to teach it. Like all teaching, there’s trial and error and it takes time. Look for opportunities for feedback and growth, and just enjoy it.
You also have to recruit the right kids. Yearbook should be for everyone, but when I’m looking for my future editors, I look for kids who are driven and who will learn quickly on the job. I can teach all the journalism, but I try to find the kids who have the skills I can’t teach.
What new challenges have you faced this year? How has the year gone overall?
The year went great. I had a great staff and an awesome group of editors and we got to attend Elite Weekend and the LA convention in-person. However, one challenge I’m having now is that I’m out of rhythm on the after-the-book-is-done stuff. It’s been a few years since we’ve done spring theme projects and that sort of thing and I’m finding I’m a little rusty.
I understand you are taking on a new challenge in 2023. How did this opportunity come about?
We are a small district with just one high school and I will be advising the Apache Junction High School program. With the success of the junior-high book, our district leaders wanted to give kids the opportunity to continue with the same level of student journalism throughout high school. I’m incredibly grateful that our administration values the program and even more excited to work with kids that were on staff in junior high.
I’m not sure what it will be like to advise two books, but I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully building a 7-12 program.
Tell me about something in your life as an adviser that has made you proud. Or something that keeps you going when things get tough and frustrating.
I am most proud when other teachers tell me how impressed they are with the yearbook kids. Knowing they are acting like professionals when they are doing interviews or covering events makes me feel like I’m doing something right and that the kids want to represent the program in a positive way. Getting that feedback always makes my day.