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.
"Graphic design and photography have ... seen a lot of changes," Bishop said. "It's probably the greatest service to our students that they learn cutting-edge design programs, as well as how to work under a true deadline."
LeCren agreed: "That's a concrete advantage to being on yearbook."
But, said LeCren, the benefits to students are much broader than hands-on job training, citing that it offers the opportunity to gain leadership, collaborative decision-making and time management skills. Students also learn to look at the "big picture," working with peers and groups they might not normally associate with to make sure all school activities are represented on the pages of their publication.
We're not nerds
Gone with the days of developing black-and-white photos and mocking up pages with scissors and glue is the stereotype that only nerds work on the high school yearbook. While staffers might mockingly refer to themselves as "yerds" — yearbook nerds — students unanimously agreed that contemporary yearbook editors are anything but.
"There is no cookie-cutter definition of a yearbook editor, but I would definitely not call them nerds," Bock said. "As an editor, you must lead and collaborate with a full staff, as well as interact and engage with all members of the school community."
Bock's fellow editor in chief, Natalie Alvarez, a 17-year-old senior at The Bishop's School, agreed: "Yearbook editors are incredibly smart, talented individuals who also happen to enjoy designing and producing a book compiling all of the memories of that particular school year. For instance, I am a varsity lacrosse player who spends countless hours in the school gym and I'm also a dancer, in addition to being a member of The Bishop's School Cum Laude Society. My fellow editors are horseback riders, a varsity soccer star, and next year's editors are varsity field hockey players and varsity soccer athletes."
While each school may organize the yearbook staff a bit differently, most consist of editorial leadership, section editors and staffers who do everything from writing copy to designing layout to photography for class credit. Torrey Pines High School's Freeflight yearbook was compiled by approximately 50 students; 20 held editor positions.
At The Bishop's School, English teacher Bishop served as a resource for six photographers, six copy layout designers and three editors. LeCren, who teaches the elective class at La Jolla High School, said her yearbook staff has included as few as 22 and as many as 36 ninth- to 12th- graders.
Nix the CDs
One trend that has gone by the wayside, said LeCren, is distributing yearbooks on CDs and DVDs. "People like the permanence of a hardbound book," LeCren said, adding that all too often technology changes, making those electronic memories inaccessible.
As this school year ends, the yearbooks are being passed out and the "signings" begin.
"I think inside jokes play the biggest role in yearbook signings," McCracken said, explaining that it allows friends to create personal memories.
For those who lack inspiration when asked to sign off this year, go with something tried and true: HAGS. Have a Great Summer ... and a lifetime of memories.
$50 to $100. But at most schools, costs are offset by the sale of ad pages to students, families and local businesses.