Yearbook advisers describe pandemic challenges

Alachua County Public Schools yearbook advisers and their students faced the challenge of capturing the essence of the school year during a pandemic, but they managed to do it featuring screen shots of Zoom meetings, half of the school attending from home, smaller books and fewer ads.

Mainstreet Daily News asked advisers Lisa Bailey from A.L. Mebane Middle School and Wayne Eury from Gainesville High School about their experience:

Q: Other than the single portraits that will flow for each grade, are students wearing face masks in club photos, etc.?

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Eury: We usually take club photos in the gym, all in one day. It’s great to get so much coverage done for the reference section in such a short period of time. Our first step this year was postponing. Usually we do “Club Photo Day” in October. In August, we still didn’t know how long the masking and distancing was going to last, so we pushed all the portraits back a month or so, and didn’t even schedule Club Photo Day until we were deep enough into the year to have a sense of things. And by then, we knew it wasn’t going to happen at all. Not the usual way.

So club photos are being cobbled together with whatever clubs send us via email. Most have sent screenshots of their Zoom meetings. Some have just sent rosters. A few have sent collections of selfies of the members. And honestly, many clubs just didn’t get together at all this year.

Bailey: We were only given permission for club pics without masks. Place them, count to three, take the mask off for 3 seconds. Take a pic. Put a mask on and physically distance.

Q: What was your strategy for doing a yearbook during a pandemic?

Eury: Our primary strategy to stay sane was “set the bar low.” In other words, we knew it was going to be super-challenging, and we made a conscious effort to not torture ourselves with the plight or our situation. Many times when consulting with my editor in chief, Reyhan Kepic, I’ve said some version of “in previous years we’ve done X, but this year, this will do.” By changing our standards, we can look at the book we’re putting together and realize that, all things considered, it’s pretty good! At times, I feel sad for my editor having her year be this challenging. But she’s doing a great job, and I realize that she may just pull off the most impressive book of my 11 years doing yearbook.

Bailey: Our theme was “finding our way” and we showed some alternate ways the school got things done this year.

Q: How many pages are in this year’s book compared to last year?

Eury: Last year we had 268, and this year we dropped to 260. Not a huge drop, but a little. Part of that is we didn’t sell as many full page senior ads as usual.

Bailey: Eight less pages due to less sales and less events and no sponsors. Less ads for kids. Less sales.

Q: Did you find any sponsors? 

Eury: Business ads are still ongoing. So far, our usual supporters are renewing their support. We have never been great about selling many business ads, so I can’t yet say if there will be much of a drop-off.

Bailey: No sponsors, less ads for kids, less sales.

Q: Do you write about or feature a section in the book about the pandemic?

Eury: It pervades the whole book, but we’ve also made an effort to not over-dwell on it. We’re not letting it define us, even if it might define this school year. We have a spread on Zoom, a spread on quarantine changes, a spread on how new ways teachers have to prep, but for the most part, other than a lack of group shots and kids wearing masks in many photos, our coverage is normal.

Bailey: Our company gave us eight pages worth of items that I could edit, copy parts, etc. I probably put about a spread worth, but little sections, graphics, etc.

Q: How big is your staff this year? Did you have remote students on staff as well?

Eury: Fourteen total: Seven at home, seven in the classroom. We started out the year with nine at home, but two have transitioned back to school. Our editor is technically Digital Academy, but she comes to the classroom for first period only and then goes home for the rest of her classes. Our staff is typically more in the 18 to 24 range, so it’s a smaller staff than usual.

Bailey: Staff is about the same size. Some worked from home. Some worked at school. Zoom meetings every week after school.

Q: Are students able to log in from home on yearbook software to do layout?

Eury: Yes, thank goodness. The main thing the kids at home can’t do is interview students on campus, take headshots of students on campus, and photograph events like sports and activities. But they can work social media for interviews and photos, and they can put their spreads together from home. If they need photos or quotes from brick and mortar kids, they give us (the brick and mortar staff) the list (and the questions) and we help get whatever they need. It definitely takes teamwork.

Bailey: Everyone can access the book from home or school. All online. I encourage immediate uploads of images, so I can have it all online.

Q: Did your yearbook company change deadlines or procedures this year to accommodate the pandemic.

Eury: We always set our own deadlines, but I did plan with my sales rep revised dates. Since the year started late, and will end late, the due dates are also slid back to match. Surprisingly, we’ve stayed comfortably on schedule so far. I credit my editor for that. Only two more deadlines to go (86 more pages total).

Bailey: Walsworth, our company, basically needs six weeks to print, so I set the deadline for about eight weeks before my distribution. Then, hopefully there isn’t a COVID outbreak to slow it down. I know a local company my friend works with that is less flexible. Happy with this arrangement.

Q: Do you create only print or also a digital book?

Eury: Print only. It’s the only technology guaranteed to still work in 20 years!

Bailey: Only doing a print version this year. 

Q: Any general comments about the theme or how you think the 2021 book will be received and how are sales going?

Eury: Reyhan (the editor) avoided the low hanging fruit: themes that dealt with the pandemic, or masks, or social distancing. She wanted, almost defiantly, the book to reflect how we came together, not how we struggled in isolation. So our theme is Up Close and Personal, which is meant truthfully (but also a smidge ironically.)

But there will be some who appreciate it, maybe even more than usual years. Because in a way, it’s a little bit of normalcy. The year still happened. We still had classes and sports and activities. It was still the first year of high school for over 400 freshmen. Seniors will still graduate. So to have a yearbook at the end of the year will be a familiar relief.

Sales are actually pretty good so far. Last year, we sold nearly 75 Hurricane Angel yearbooks (books purchased by faculty and the community to donate to seniors who might not normally be able to purchase a yearbook). We usually just sell four or five Angel books. It will be interesting to see how Angel sales are this year. We ordered 600 total books.

Bailey: We cut back our order from 100 to 85 books. I am, of course, hoping to sell out, but who knows. If I sell 75, I break even, so I think we are safe.

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