When leading a yearbook team, flexibility is a must. Advisors need to make sure their instructions are both clear and tailored, that way understanding among students
To help us understand this concept of flexibility and clarity in yearbook instruction and execution, we had the pleasure of speaking to Amy Fuhr, the yearbook advisor for Dolores Huerta Middle School, located in Burbank. Amy currently manages thirty-one students in her yearbook class, spanning from 6th to 8th grade. While Amy loves her students and is excited to see them take on new responsibilities, overseeing a yearbook team of junior highers has come with its challenges.
While Amy loves her students and is excited to see them take on new responsibilities, overseeing a yearbook team of junior highers has come with its challenges.
In particular, one of the biggest challenges she reports encountering is that of getting her students to understand the concept of “theme.” She presented multiple formal lessons on the topic, and went through old yearbooks with them and identified their themes, but still only a third of the class understood. Most of the students had no idea what Amy was talking about when she talked about the importance of, for example, staying consistent with fonts and colors throughout the yearbook. It wasn’t until Amy herself drafted a yearbook cover and theme and showed it to them that they understood, and the wheels in their heads started turning. Amy’s students are able to handle specific, tangible instruction, but the minute they’re asked about what they want, and are given any form of freedom, they freeze.
...the minute they’re asked about what they want, and are given any form of freedom, they freeze.
Through this experience, Amy noticed a difference in the personalities between this year’s yearbook team and those of previous years. The lessons Amy taught in the past didn’t work for this year’s group—she wanted to give them power and control over the finished product, but they couldn’t handle that kind of responsibility. She realized, though, that the last time the 7th graders in her group had a normal year on campus was in 4th grade, and the last time her 8th graders had a normal year on campus was in 5th grade. This has resulted in a maturity gap—although Amy’s students are amazingly resilient and bright and sweet, they can’t handle responsibility in the same way past students have. They are still in the elementary school mindset of “I need to be told what to do,” so Amy has had to take the reigns on projects she hasn’t had to do before. As a result of this, Amy reports that 2021 has been a year of learning and growing for her, since she has begun to understand that every year is going to be different, not just with the students, but with the way that the class itself is run. Embracing this truth has helped her move forward: The 2021-2022 academic year is going to be a different year, but it will still be good.
The lessons Amy taught in the past didn’t work for this year’s group—she wanted to give them power and control over the finished product...
However, another challenge has come with students wanting to submit selfies as their portraits, which was how Amy compiled student pictures during lockdown in 2020. However, she reports that it was a pain to sort through the thousands of selfies that came in. As a result, Amy has come up with an ingenious compromise: She is letting her yearbook students take pictures of their classmates and friends, rather than hiring a professional photographer. This has resulted in the portraits turning out much cuter than the usual photos, since the kids are actually smiling and happy. Amy also loosened up the dress code for the portraits, so kids could wear hats or jerseys, and they could bring in a prop if they wanted.
This has resulted in the portraits turning out much cuter than the usual photos, since the kids are actually smiling and happy.
So, because Amy made room in the yearbook schedule for these individualized portraits, her team was able to make each picture unique and fun for the students. For once, the students were actually excited to have their yearbook photos taken, and her yearbook team has been having a lot of fun with it. This will also probably help with yearbook sales since each student will have a specialized, personalized yearbook photo. Also, Amy can now offer an incentive for parents to preorder: If they preorder the yearbook, she’ll give them nice printouts of their child’s yearbook portrait for free. Then, if they don’t preorder but they still want the printed portraits, they can have them, but for a donation to the yearbook program.
Amy is an advisor who thinks big and innovates, as seen through her portrait compromise, which is already ten times more popular and liked in her school than the regular portraits. Being a new advisor, people tend to expect Amy to do things the way they have always been done, instead of trying to innovate. However, this isn’t Amy’s personality: She isn’t one to go with the flow, and she wants to make sure that each yearbook is an accurate representation of its respective year. The focus, she says, should be on history: What were the trends? What was popular? What big things were in the news that impacted the school? She wants context and explanation, and she wants people to be able to look back at the yearbook in 100 years and know what made that specific year unique.
Here at United Yearbook, we look up to the advisors like Amy who push boundaries and focus on the growth of their students: Dolores Huerta Middle School is very lucky to have her.
Alyse Mgrdichian, writing coach
Alyse Mgrdichian holds a B.A. from Biola University, having majored in psychology and minored in philosophy. She is a writing coach for United Yearbook Printing, and also works as a senior editor for TSE Worldwide Press, the parent company of UYB. She applies her expertise and love of stories to both roles.