Just six years ago, when English teacher Chad Bishop began working with students on El Miradero, The Bishop's School yearbook, they were still developing film and using grease pencils to crop pictures before FedEx-ing them to a publisher in Minnesota.
Today, students are able to complete virtually every step of yearbook production, save printing, thanks to computers and digital technology.
"Five years ago, we had two 16-page 'signatures' and the rest of the book was black and white," Bishop said. "You could use expensive spot color to add a single color to a single page. The books were generally 200 pages. Now our book is full color and 300-plus pages."
"With each year that passes," said Tasha Bock, an 18-year-old senior at The Bishop's School and El Miradero editor, "yearbooks are progressively becoming more focused on cutting-edge graphic design. The proliferation and widening availability of programs (such as Adobe InDesign) provide students a means by which to translate their creative ideas into tangible spreads. Another obvious aesthetic change is that full-color printing is becoming commonplace, making books brighter, flashier and more exciting."
Desktop publishing programs allow students to create their own layouts, giving them decision-making authority over everything from photo size and position to font size and style, color swatches, pica and point spacing, headlines and copy.
Advances in photography and the accessibility of digital cameras have also streamlined and simplified the process. Shooting and uploading photos are basic skills for computer-savvy teens, enabling them to assume yet another dimension of yearbook design.
"They do everything," explained Mia Boardman Smith, an English teacher and publications adviser at Torrey Pines High School. Where pages were once assembled and sent off to a publisher, today's content is submitted online. The students then receive a proof of what the actual page will look like, which is again edited and finalized.
"One thing that I really love about yearbook is that we're really free to say what we want," said Leslie McCracken, a 16-year-old junior at Torrey Pines High School who was chosen to serve as the 2010-11 Freeflight yearbook editor in chief.
While some schools have a policy about what can and cannot be included, Smith explained that censorship is illegal. "California is one of seven states that has very well-protected student First Amendment rights," Smith said.
At La Jolla High School, there are clear-cut guidelines that prohibit anything illegal or inappropriate. "My experience is that you have to know what your clientele is going to want and what your administration is going to be comfortable with," said La Jolla High School English teacher and The Viking yearbook adviser Carole LeCren, adding that part of her job as adviser is to teach her students how to make solid journalistic decisions.
Lessons along the way
"I couldn't think of a better thing to involve myself in in high school," McCracken said, explaining that working on the annual publication for the last two years has helped her decide to pursue a career in marketing or graphic design.