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Yearbooks, Who Knew?

A summertime greeting to our Administrator friends!

Congratulations on successfully completing yet another school year. The 2022-23 school year, the first, “truly ‘normal” year after the pandemic, was not without its challenges. You, your administrative team, faculty and staff are all to be commended, and we are in your debt for the tireless support you provide your students.

Believe it or not, one way a community shows its appreciation for its schools is through a school’s yearbook. Bob Wessel, a local Lenawee County, Michigan historian, said of the Historical Museum’s collection of school yearbooks,

The one thing they all have in common, from the oldest to the latest, is a growing

section of advertisements and “congratulations” from local businesses and parents

showing strong community support for the schools.1

A page spread that features two ads. The one om the left is a local Mexican restaurant. The pictures show students at the restaurant. The one on the right is for the Nissan dealership. The students are pictured at the dealership.
Yearbooks serve as public records, reference books, and as historical documents.

A yearbook represents several things. First, it is a vehicle for a dialogue between a school and its community. It is a way students speak to each other, the greater school community, the shared neighborhoods, and businesses that support the endeavors of the students and their school. Second, the marketing section advertisements depict the community support for the school. The Congratulatory page spreads are filled with statements from family members, relatives, and business owners, measuring the commitment, respect, and trust the deliverers have in the school system.

Yearbooks serve as public records, reference books, and as historical documents. Yearbooks tell the story of a particular time and place from the students’ points of view. How well that story is told often depends on the yearbook staff’s understanding of the purposes of a yearbook. Clearly students need to understand that yearbooks must relate accurate information. To underscore that premise, The Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism provides guidance including how to equitably cover all sides to a story, how to accurately cite sources, when to collaborate and seek advice when identifying content to include in the publication, how to determine the appropriateness of content, and, lastly, how to handle events like an in memoriam.2

The Guide also states:

Yearbook staffs are responsible for creating an annual publication that becomes the permanent record of the school and the school population they serve. The publication they create will serve as a record/history book, memory book, business venture, classroom laboratory and public relations tool for the district. Because the functions of the publication are so far-reaching, and the publication itself is a historical document, ethical questions facing the yearbook staff are challenging and unique.3

It is reasonable to expect a partnership between the administration and the yearbook staff to mitigate those ethical questions and empower students to use their voices in the process.

Administrations, consider purchasing a healthy amount (24 plus) to be available to give as gifts to special visitors and community supporters. The yearbook is a symbol of your pride in the school, in its students, staff and faculty. Give a copy to the District Superintendent. Most importantly, if possible, celebrate in a sizable way with a presentation to the yearbook staff in front of their peers to recognize their amazing work. It would mean the world to them. The educational experience of making this permanent type of publication is unique and important to acknowledge. For a yearbook staff, the completion and distribution of the yearbook into the hands of their peers is like winning a state championship. Recognition of their accomplishment is an important closure to the yearlong process of making the yearbook.

A group of students taking a picture together
The yearbook is the physical demonstration that students belong, their stories matter!

An overlooked, but immensely important, benefit of the yearbook is the physical demonstration that students belong, their stories matter! Often students choose to drop out by 8th grade. Pat Conroy, a well-known American author, wrote eloquently about the power of a yearbook to capture the essence of belonging:

A yearbook is a chronicle of life. The very best ones have a snapshot of every

student and teacher in the school. The great yearbook never overlooks the shy kids

or the kids who hold back or keep to themselves. It embraces everyone and

everything because it will serve as the history of this one year of the singular school

which exists beneath the shadows of your buildings and all the roads and highways

that have led inexplicably to your school.

“Excerpts of text from Pat Conroy, used by permission.”

Schools are complex environments. Almost every school has multiple cultures and subcultures, whether they involve race and ethnicity, gender identity, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, special needs, and/or language preferences. Students navigate the overt or formal system in schools, which are the academics and the approved set of co-curricular team sports, clubs and other activities. The more obvious undercurrent or sub-cultural levels are the social terrains. Often, students prefer not to involve the adults on campus in these areas. As a result, like minded people naturally gravitate towards each other and form bonds. These social groups, or cliques, can be exclusive. Labels for these social groups, used by other student groups, can be derogatory and based on biases and assumptions. The social terrain can be a tough one to navigate.

The fact that most schools today are educating a more multicultural student body means that each classroom and campus can become a place of peaceful coexistence and respectful interaction, or a hotbed of conflict and distrust. Peaceful coexistence and respectful interaction require a willingness to listen and discover who the other person is by making a space for them and affirming their value. We all want to belong. Psychologist Abraham Maslow reckoned that belonging needs to be satisfied before a person can be fulfilled. Belonging is an intense part of the formation of a young person on their journey to adulthood. Ten years from now, when the yearbook is taken off the shelf, out of the closet or drawer, we all want to believe, as evidenced in the pages, that we mattered, that we belonged.4

Pharris-Ciurej, Hirschman and Willhoft concluded in their social science research, The 9th grade shock and the high school dropout crisis, that 9th grade was particularly devastating for at risk students who are ill-prepared to meet the expectations of larger class sizes, more coursework and the increased independent responsibility for the work. Of course this is further entangled by the physical and developmental changes that often correlate with riskier behaviors and temptations. When you add new peer groups and the stress of making connections within the context of a larger, impersonal campus setting, the risk for failure and dropping out increases dramatically.5 Generating a sense of belonging for these students may help to bring them back, to keep them in class and in school. Yearbooks with the intention of validating belonging in the hands of every student may make the difference for someone. That will be worth it. United Yearbook has a curriculum instructional guide, Curriculum & Resources No. 6, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, that will help your yearbook teacher/adviser create the necessary lesson plans to address these concerns.

You are important, and your support brings value to the adviser and student staff’s work, increasing the quality of the book. United Yearbook plans two more blogs with additional thoughts on these matters. We thank you for your time.

Former yearbook advisor, Lucy McHugh

Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.

Editor, Donna Ladner

Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.

1 Wessel, B. (2021, September 14). Looking at the never-ending evolution of the High School Yearbook. The Daily Telegram.

2 Yearbook Ethical Guidelines for Student Media. Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism. (n.d.).

3 Ibid.

4 Curriculum & Resources, No.6, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, United Yearbook Printing, 2021

5 Pharris-Ciurej, N., Hirschman, C., & Willhoft, J. (2012, May). The 9th grade shock and the high school dropout crisis. Social science research.


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