Yearbook Chat with Jim: Crystal Kazmierski
Written by Shiloh Scott
Despite being turned away from her high school yearbook staff, Crystal Kazmierski went on to become a legendary yearbook adviser. In her 24 years advising the Wings yearbook at Arrowhead Christian Academy in Redlands, California, Kazmierski and her staff amassed 22 Pacemakers, one Pacemaker finalist, 19 CSPA Gold Crowns and 5 CSPA Silver Crowns.
Her start in publications
Kazmierski didn’t get involved in publications until college, and even that wasn’t very journalistic. After graduation, she worked with the organization Campus Crusade for Christ. When the group found out she drew, Kazmierski was recruited onto their publications team. That led to a job as a commercial artist at a design house.
The skills she learned – along with her theater background – led to her first teaching position. It was in that role that Kazmierski created her first yearbook… sort of.
“[It]was really more of just a teacher putting together a memory book, so I don’t think of that as a yearbook by any means,” said Kazmierski.
Despite the limitations, Kazmierski managed to learn about the possibilities. A little blue book called Yearbook Fundamentals opened the eyes of Kazmierski and her staff.
Coming to Arrowhead Christian
After taking a few years off from teaching to raise her child, Kazmierski was eager to get back to teaching high school. Her old school no longer existed, but she found Arrowhead Christian Academy and was hired as an English teacher, then moved on to teaching yearbook and theater.
Kazmierski came to Arrowhead in the early days of desktop publishing, which she had to learn before teaching her students.
Kazmierski established a strong, renowned yearbook program. She made her yearbook room a place where students wanted to be, which allowed her staff to create groundbreaking yearbooks.
One of the hallmarks of Wings is strong storytelling and writing. Kazmierski credits her students who “wrote from their heads and their hearts.” She admits this is something that can’t really be taught. Instead, she found the students who had that skill – whether it was inherent or something they’d picked up from previous staffs.
“I wish I could teach that. I try,” she said. “I know how to recognize it and I know how to guide it. Once I’ve seen it written, I can tell a kid how to fix it and improve it. But to have that in you, it’s just something that’s there.”
Over the years, Kazmierski’s books showcased all kinds of stories, from heartfelt and gut-wrenching to silly.
After 24 years advising Wings, Kazmierski retired after the 2017 school year. However, she’s still involved in publications at Arrowhead Christian Academy. She hasn’t left the yearbook world. Kazmierski still teaches at yearbook workshops. She tapped a former student, Michael Klein, to take over as the Wings yearbook adviser. She gives advice when needed, but has mostly kept her distance to allow him to shape the program his way.
You can hear from Klein about taking over a well-established program in Yearbook Chat with Jim season one, episode six, “Taking Over an Established Program.”
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