A slight angle was enough to get people’s attention. A turn of just six degrees.
Placing photos, stories and various components of the 2015-’16 Washington High School yearbook at an angle made people sit up and take notice.
It was a risk, remembers Autumn Buesking, who was photo editor for the 2016 Washingtonian and who is co-editor of the 2017 yearbook with Lydia Juengling. She remembers many of the other yearbook staff being worried and nervous about the angles.
“Angles? Why are you going to angle everything? It’s going to be hard to read, hard to see . . . ,” Buesking recalls people saying.
But the risk paid off.
Last month, the Washingtonian placed fourth in the Best of Show competition for yearbooks of 232 pages or fewer attending the National Scholastic Press Association convention held in Indianapolis, Ind.
The WHS yearbook staff has historically done well at state competitions it enters, said advisers Ryan Leatherman and Christina Manolis, but this may be the biggest honor the WHS yearbook staff has had in a long time, maybe ever.
“It’s still a little unbelievable to us, I think,” Manolis remarked.
Buesking believes the angle design played a significant part in why the Washingtonian did so well in the national Best of Show competition.
“It was just a really cool design, because no one had really done that before,” she said, explaining she has seen a lot of yearbooks from other schools through a yearbook swap that schools do at various conferences they attend.
“We take five of our yearbooks to trade with five from other schools . . . We bring them back to the school, and it’s actually a summer assignment. You have to take three home and study them, look through all of them, and write down things you notice and you like,” said Buesking.
None of the yearbooks they had ever seen used an angle design, so it was a fresh approach. Even better was how the finished product looked.
“It was really cool when we saw it printed. It actually turned out so nicely,” said Buesking. “It’s very trendy and new, and now more schools are going to start to do it. It’s cool to see that.”
‘Trying to Make It Our Own’
The co-editors for the 2015-’16 Washingtonian were Danielle Voelkerding, who was design editor, and Kelsey Guinn, who was in charge of copy and text. They were seniors last year and are both now away at college, so they were not at the National High School Journalism Convention Nov. 12 when the WHS team learned its yearbook had placed fourth in Best in Show.
However, Buesking and Juengling immediately called them to share the news.
Actually most the yearbook staff who worked on the 2015-’16 yearbook were seniors who graduated last May, said Buesking, so not many of the current staff were as interested in celebrating.
If anything, they feel a little bit of pressure to follow up that win with an even better 2016-’17 yearbook. Buesking said she certainly does.
“It’s very hard to live up to that, and I want to be just as good as Danielle and Kelsey, but I don’t want to do the exact same things as Danielle and Kelsey,” she said. “I want to be my own editor and my own person, but I want to live up to the potential of what they’ve done.
“This year is a different book and it’s a different design, and everything is different than what we did last year. So we are just trying to make it our own and not live in their shadows,” Buesking said.
Designed, Created By Students
WHS has around 1,400 students, and the 2015-’16 yearbook was 208 pages.
Of those, only about 20 pages are the individual student photos grouped by class. Another couple dozen or so pages are designated for club and sports team photos, and ads.
“Our kids probably make 120 to 150 original pages, where they are coming up with the ideas of a design,” said Leatherman. “They have a template that they have some freedom to mess with as they see fit.”
Each year, the editors-in-chief of the yearbook are responsible for designing the page layouts that will be used, said Manolis.
“They start with a blank page and design the templates, fully design the theme — how many photos go on a page, how many captions, how many stories . . . and from there the students get assigned the spreads and they have to fill in everything,” she explained.
“Lydia came up with eight or nine designs for pages and the staff then just drops in the photos and the copy,” she said.
The yearbook is nearly 100 percent the work of the student yearbook staff. There are some photos and components that are submitted.
“Our students write the stories and cutlines and take the photos. Editors design templates, converge to determine theme and ideas a little bit,” said Leatherman.
What It Takes to Be on Yearbook Staff
There are currently 15 students on the WHS yearbook staff. Students apply to be accepted in the spring, and not everyone who applies makes the cut.
The advisers are selective, they say, because the workload is that demanding.
Yearbook students have a 50-minute yearbook class every day of the week so they can work on their assignments, but that’s not enough time to get everything accomplished, so they have to put in an additional one to three hours a week, at least, said Manolis. They are out photographing events, working on their stories, getting interviews . . .
Not a lot of students are willing to put in that extra time and effort. To figure out which students have what it takes to be successful on the yearbook staff, the advisers consider a number of things.
“We look at their grades and English skill level; they have to get teacher recommendations; they write some short answer paragraphs for us about things, like ‘How do you deal with stress?’ and ‘What other things are you involved in?’, ‘Are you willing to put in outside time,’ ” said Leatherman.
“A lot of the time students think that yearbook will be a blow-off class where they won’t have to do much work,” said Manolis. “They don’t realize how much outside work is involved. So that (application) process weeds out those kids who think they are just going to sit here all day and play games.”
The time demands of being on the yearbook staff do not prevent students from being involved in other activities, clubs or sports, the advisers say.
“We have had quite a few students who have been involved in other things, but they always make time for yearbook. They stay late or come in early,” said Manolis.
In fact, being more involved in school activities can be beneficial to yearbook because they are knowledgeable about what’s going on in and around school and what should be included in the yearbook.
Only sophomore to senior students are allowed to apply. In some cases, the sophomores who apply do not yet have the skill level to be accepted, so the advisers encourage them to apply again the following year.
“Grades, more than anything else, is what prevent kids from being accepted,” said Leatherman. “If they are struggling at all with their other classes, this will not make that any easier.”
The editors are hand-picked by the advisers each year. They want students with a good work ethic, who are extroverted, detail oriented and have strong journalism skills.
All of the staff is given a six-week “crash course” in journalism skills at the beginning of the year, said Manolis, and new staff members are paired up with a returning yearbook student to learn the ropes.
To help the yearbook students improve their photography skills, since they are taking so many of the photos used in the yearbook, the advisers provide a week-long training just on shooting.
“We teach them the rule of thirds, composition techniques and framing, and then we have them go out and do a scavenger hunt-type of thing,” said Manolis. “They come back and we give them feedback.”
‘Open Your Eyes’
Planning for a new yearbook begins each summer with editors attending a yearbook camp in St. Louis. Editors from schools all across the metro area and the state attend.
“They start designing, have a three-day run through to get everyone familiar with it again, and at the end they have to present their theme to everyone else,” said Manolis. “We actually went in with four or five ideas and after the first session, they came back with a whole new theme and went with that.”
The theme for the 2016-’17 yearbook is “Open Your Eyes and Look Around.” Buesking remembers how they came to settle on it, after struggling to settle on a theme.
“Lydia was in a session at the camp, and one of the ladies said, ‘You’re going to have to open up your eyes and look around for good ideas,’ and Lydia was like, ‘That’s it!’ ” Buesking recalled.
“So we decided to use that and play with the ‘Around’ and use circles, but circles aren’t good to design with, so we went with arcs. So everything has an arch to it.”
As part of that theme, the staff have been playing with the idea of observation and perspective, unconventional framing, both on the page and in photographs, said Manolis.
Leads to Well-Rounded Students
Manolis and Leatherman know the majority of their yearbook students won’t go on to work in journalism someday, but their experience on the yearbook staff will have better prepared them for any career they choose.
“I find if you take a journalism class, you learn every skill that you need for any type of job — teamwork, writing skills, computer skills and other technology skills . . . meeting deadlines, being held accountable for what they are doing, learning responsibility,” said Manolis.
“We know that the majority of the kids who come into yearbook are probably not going to do anything in writing, photography or journalism, but it’s a fun class, and I think they leave really well-rounded,” she said.
“We have a lot of students who come in really introverted, and they don’t like interviewing, but they learn how to talk with other people, which is a skill that I think is starting to diminish with the younger generation,” Manolis added.
Leatherman agreed, the benefits of yearbook experience are many.
“Regardless of whether they go into journalism or not, they are going to need problem-solving skills, the ability to collaborate with others, the ability to delegate, the ability to deal with deadlines . . . ,” he said.
“Journalism prepares kids for things in a way that is unique and not in any way portrayed in most normal classes. It’s a privilege for the kids to take it, and I almost wish more kids could take it, because it would benefit our society and our country more,” he commented.