In a school year filled with challenges and uncertainties, the Harvard-Westlake (HW) yearbook staff has ensured that most students receive four books that encompass the 2020-2021 school year’s significant moments. The team overcame the challenging tasks that arise in an online setting with adaptability and a positive attitude.
Yearbook adviser Jenn Bladen noticed her students’ flexibility. “I’m first of all super excited that my students embraced change.”
One of the most significant changes for the yearbook came somewhat due to the pandemic and a realization by Bladen about how the yearbook could stay relevant throughout the year. Instead of the entire school year wrapped up into one yearbook distributed at the end of the year, the yearbook staff has decided to split the book into four, with each book given out per quarter.
“We were confronted with the concept of having to commit to a permanently printed hardcover book an entire year, and that was just too daunting,” Bladen said. “And so we split it up.”
Bladen is experienced in the yearbook industry. She explained that instead of having printed pages from the first semester waiting for the next quarter to end, it was a good idea to have them turned into books immediately. Not only is the information in those books more relevant, but it also gets HW students excited about the yearbook, and they no longer have to wait an entire year to receive one.
These additional books allowed yearbook members, like Olivia Baradaran ’24, to include new and creative content. “My favorite thing I worked on was the section of the yearbook where students predict what will happen next quarter. This is one of the many wonderful things we were able to add to the yearbook due to it being four books this year,” Baradaran said.
However, the production of four books is not an easy task, especially this year. On a typical day at the HW campus, it is common for students to see yearbook members taking photos of their school lives, playing a sport, or raising their hands in English class. However, due to this school year’s unprecedented nature, the yearbook staff has had trouble getting photos of students in their school element. The problem is that it is not easy to get students to send pictures for the yearbook.
“First quarter, people were still excited about being in the yearbook and were willing to send us selfies and photos their parents took and things like that. It’s just not like that anymore,” Bladen said.
Further, the nature of online classes has failed to meet the excitement of learning in-person, leading to repetitive experiences. “We’ve kind of made a commitment to include a minimal number of Zoom screen captures because, well, who wants to see that in the book as well as in life?” she said.
Even with the difficulties of obtaining photos of students, the yearbook staff put together a yearbook for the first quarter and will continue to push three more out by the end of the year. But, even with a few downsides, there have been multiple advantages.
The ninth graders are now able to work and communicate with upper school students. Previously, the physical divide between the two campuses had made this impossible, but the flexibility of online learning has allowed for more collaboration and teamwork. All students are now able to meet on Zoom and discuss concepts related to the yearbook through this accessible medium.
Also, 2020 was an unprecedented year that came with a pandemic, the rising popularity of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and further exposure of systematic racism, a presidential election, and more. The staff has planned to use every quarter’s yearbook to update students on both school-related happenings as well as larger-scale events, including community involvement in the BLM movement and the pandemic’s current state. Bladen and her students believe that these are two critical aspects of our nation that need to be commemorated in the yearbooks.
According to Baradaran, “We’ve done interviews with leaders of BLACC at HW. They expressed their importance of BLM and we were able to incorporate numerous pages in both of our yearbooks about the movement.”
One of the most important things that Bladen learned about her students is that they have the ability to react and adapt to change in a positive light. “They came up with the theme ‘changemakers’ because they don’t feel that change is exclusively being thrust upon you as young people. That you are also making change. You are not just adapting, you are pushing the envelope.”
No matter how resilient the yearbook staff has learned to become in an online setting, it is still so important that students continue to send photos or share quotes with yearbook members. The books are made up of aspects of the HW community, and therefore they require contributions from the community. “Especially this year, we cannot do it without you,” Bladen said.