Local schools produce yearbooks under difficult circumstances

Published 8:51 am Thursday, March 18, 2021

Elementary, middle and high school yearbooks serve to immortalize a year of school life.

Across the glossy pages, you would typically find headshots, class photos and snapshots from sporting events, pep rallies and school fundraisers. The last few pages, left blank, quickly become filled with the signatures of classmates referencing the many memories made during the previous two semesters. 

But what does a yearbook look like in a year defined by a global health crisis that kept most students out of classrooms for months? 

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Emily Dabbs, Prince Edward County High School yearbook advisor, said the high school has had to pivot heavily in order to make this year’s edition possible. 

“It has changed the way that we are getting photos and quotes substantially,” Dabbs said of the pandemic. “My students have been reaching out to friends and classmates all year to try to get photos, and we have requested photos through social media throughout the year.” 

Dabbs said putting the yearbook together is normally a student-driven endeavor. High schoolers typically take photos during school events and work in small groups to put together the pages of the book.

“This year has been very different because we were virtual for most of the year, and my students have not had the opportunity to make as much of a collaborative effort in putting the book together,” she said.

Dabbs said this year’s yearbook is going to be mostly compiled of photo submissions. In an attempt to get more photos, the school held a drawing for a free yearbook in which students earned an entry into the drawing for each photo they shared. The school received more than 100 submissions. 

“It was great to be able to see our students still enjoying themselves in this crazy year,” she said.

Dabbs added senior portraits, usually done over the summer, had to be pushed to the fall this year, although rescheduling for those who missed their appointment has been quite difficult. 

“We also were unable to do underclassmen photos at all this year,” she said. 

Dabbs said this year’s book will have quite a few spreads that focus on how different the year has been, including pages that play on such concepts as “2020 BINGO.” 

Lisa Mattison, library media specialist and yearbook advisor for Cumberland Middle School, said the school is going to get creative this year with customizable options for yearbooks, including printable QR codes students can scan in order to watch videos. 

Mattison said the 2020-2021 yearbook will not have many of the typical photos students are used to finding in the yearbook. While the middle school will have student portraits and some holiday photos, a lot of the big photo ops such as pep rallies, assemblies and Walk-for-Education did not occur this year. 

“I won’t have any photos from the lunchroom, playground or even group photos of our students collaborating with one another,” she said. “What I hope to have are photos of our students outside of school, maybe of them working online, giving back to the community, doing something fun outside or even of them and their family or favorite pet.

“I’m not picky. My big concern is that I will have some parents that send in lots of photos and then some that won’t send any. I try to make everything equitable, so that is one of my main focuses.”

Mattison said parents of seniors will have the opportunity to purchase space on pages to include messages and photos of their child or children.

She added individual portraits have had to be rescheduled multiple times this year, and the parents of virtual students still need to be contacted if those parents did not bring their child in during virtual portrait sessions. 

In terms of when the yearbook will be published, Mattison said student portraits were taken just last week, so progress is a little behind. 

“I will be able to decide when the books will be printed when I see how many students and parents send in photos,” she said.

Emily Overstreet, yearbook advisor for the Cumberland Elementary School, said the elementary school does have plans for the 2020-2021 yearbook. 

“Even though we didn’t have the events that we typically have in a normal school year, we still plan to showcase all the amazing things that happen on a daily basis at Cumberland Elementary School,” she said.  

Overstreet said while this year’s edition will have a similar layout as past years, showcasing each grade level and class, one big change is the headliners for pages. 

“For example, instead of a ‘Color Run’ or ‘Fall Festival’ page, we may have a ‘Zoom’ or ‘Virtual Learning’ page,” she added. 

Since Cumberland’s elementary students returned in October, Overstreet said she will thankfully have plenty of photos documenting the school year for this year’s yearbook. And with proper social distancing, the elementary school was still able to have a successful picture day which continued after school hours to accommodate fully virtual students.

Overstreet said this year’s edition will include some special pages influenced by the pandemic, including spreads showing students working from home and highlights from fully virtual classes.

For some local schools, the effects of the pandemic mean no 2020-2021 yearbook at all. 

Thomas Foster, principal of Prince Edward Middle School, said the middle school will not produce a yearbook this year due to the staggered nature of student return. 

Middle School Librarian and Yearbook Advisor Sharon Carter said individual pictures for middle school students were not taken this year. 

Prince Edward Elementary School will forgo this year’s yearbook, but the school may double up come next year’s edition.

According to Dr. Erinn Green, elementary school yearbook advisor, school officials have decided to wait until the 2021-2022 school year to compile a yearbook in order to allow for a product that is more meaningful and includes all students.

Students are still able to have their individual pictures taken, and photo sessions are scheduled for the end of March. Students who participate in all-remote instruction will also have the opportunity to come get pictures taken.

Green said next year’s yearbook will likely be larger than normal in order to document both school years.