25 May 2021
Atholton’s yearbook this year is all about “changing it up.” And that’s exactly what they did.
Due to the virtual school year, it’s been extremely challenging to create a yearbook chronicling all of the exciting parts of student lives. As a result, this year’s yearbook is going to look very different from years past.
How? Atholton allowed all clubs to design their own slides for the book, an idea so well-received that it might stay for years to come. Academic spreads have also been impossible since students weren’t actually in classrooms, so they are using pictures of students’ at-home workspaces and desks to spice it up.
One big hurdle the yearbook crews had to work with is this year’s dual semester schedule. Having Yearbook run semesters 1 and 2 with different members was a big inconvenience. “[Yearbook students] spent the first semester learning about the yearbook and learning about the program we use, only to then leave at the end to have a new group come in in January and have to teach them the same thing all over,” Atholton Yearbook advisor Mr. Mackechnie explained. “It really wasn’t until January that we started to get enough material to actually start working on it in earnest.” Now in May, with a fully trained staff and more school events to cover, yearbook-making is in full swing. That is, compared to first semester with “nothing really exciting to cover,” commented SaraRose LeFors, a junior at Atholton who took Yearbook both semesters this year.
Planning for the yearbook was impossible, but Atholton isn’t alone in their yearbook struggles. Around the county, Yearbook students have run into the same problems. “Sports alone can take up—I would say—at least a third of the yearbook,” said Ms. Fischetti, the Yearbook advisor at Mt. Hebron High School. That is a lot of pages to have up in the air as to whether they would happen or not.
As a result, Yearbook members are having a lot of difficulty filling the book. Both Atholton’s and Hebron’s yearbooks were cut down to about 150 pages, which is a significant loss. At Mt. Hebron, a normal yearbook is around 250 pages. Ms. Fischetti noted, “a lot of the things that you could normally rely on are not there anymore,” including winter sports, homecoming, and pep rallies; these are all things that can’t be put in the yearbook this year.
Portraits are a huge part of every yearbook, and the Yearbook staff this year “had to just wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and see if [schools] were even going to be allowed to schedule them,” Ms. Fischetti exclaimed. Gauging how many photos to save room for was extremely difficult, especially considering adding pages is pricey. This had the potential to “make or break” the yearbook flow, she added. The same situation affected Atholton, where staff ended up only receiving about 100 portraits per class.
A lot of effort is going towards getting photo submissions from students for the books. Mr. Mackechnie has been putting out many student announcements on Canvas but has found that they are not very effective and are probably overused to get students’ attention. He’s also assigned his Yearbook students to post a call for picture submissions on Instagram and submit proof of a post to Canvas. While this didn’t bring in “the windfall [he] was expecting” it did help out with picture submissions. Atholton has also gotten their senior SGA account to post the same pleas for pictures.
Clearly, the yearbook staff has had to be extremely creative. To put it delicately, “A lot of it is teenagers being teenagers and being very skilled at stalking people.” Ms. Fischetti used social media to get submissions by having her students find the handles of other students and DM them. She also sends out Canvas messages which are a “hit or miss, depends on the kid, depends on how often they check their Canvas.” She’s reached out specifically to individual students and has started to add their parents or guardians on the message, which has helped with responses. They’ve even been using Google forms for quotes to send to sports teams and messaging parent Facebook groups to ask for submissions.
“People just don’t want to submit pictures,” LeFors said. Reaching out to specific people through social media and texts has worked much better than mass requests because it’s harder to say no, but it’s still much more difficult than finding students in their class during a normal, non-virtual year.
Even when they do get a good number of photo submissions, they can’t use most of them. If one student submits ten photos, the yearbook will most likely only include one. “The last thing we want to do is have the same person on a page multiple times,” Mr. Mackechnie said.
Atholton Yearbook is also having a hard time with quotes. “Even though photos are hard to get, it’s still going to be much more of a photo book. There will be less writing in it this year just based on the nature of [this year],” Mr. Mackechnie clarified. Student picture submissions are often sent in without any captions. With no way to message the student back or find them in the building, the photo ends up being on its own.
Unfortunately also due to the nature of this year, it’s unanimous that the yearbook will not equally represent each student. If Yearbook staffers need content with a certain student it’s really difficult to find because “you can’t just hunt down a kid in a classroom,” Ms. Fischetti explained. The yearbook is dependent on picture submissions and is going to represent those students that submitted. As LeFors put it, “people have to send in pictures if they want to be included.”
Hannah Blumenthal, a junior at Atholton, has seen all of the announcements asking for yearbook contributions but hasn’t sent anything in. “I think a lot of students are getting really bogged down by the monotony of it,” she said. She feels that she doesn’t “have anything to show for the year besides being stuck at home in front of a screen,” and doesn’t feel like she has anything to share for the yearbook that would be interesting. However, she knows “the people are working really hard and [knows] the students don’t give them a lot to work with.”
So what can students look forward to seeing in their smaller yearbooks? It was a struggle as LeFors described, “with no events, we have to come up with different ideas to get people to send in pictures.” Schools have added some extra superlatives, fashion spreads, student activism spreads, and even back-to-school spreads for the return to hybrid learning. Atholton even has a pet spread coming, as well as what students are doing during flex time, and socializing during COVID.
Seniors are always the biggest clients for the yearbook, and this year to make up for the lack of fun senior experiences, the senior section is going to be emphasized “without a doubt,” Mr. Mackechnie said. This is happening both intentionally and unintentionally because underclassmen haven’t exactly had any school events. Seniors have had activity nights, movie nights, and senior sunrises that have given yearbooks content the other classes haven’t gotten. Atholton is also adding baby pictures to the top of the senior portraits, where picture submissions are looking up. “I feel like now that the seniors are starting to realize they’re graduating, we’ve gotten more materials,” Mr. Mackechnie said. In addition to baby pictures, senior quotes are back in Atholton’s book and each senior portrait has almost doubled in size on the page.
This year’s yearbook has been a big challenge to create, but the yearbook students and teachers really have done their very best to make it a good one. They ask that students and parents keep the circumstances in mind when receiving their books, which isn’t always how it goes. “Every summer I get a lot of emails about what we did wrong, what I did wrong, how dare I, some not nice stuff. I’ve had people scream at me on the phone,” Ms. Fischetti described. She hopes this year will be different because of just how creative they had to be. But LeFors promised, “it’ll be a good yearbook.”