Paying It Forward Yearbook Style

Paying It Forward Yearbook Style

Not because his schedule isn’t full enough and certainly not because his editors aren’t already busy — but because he delivers the magic of yearbook and he knows it’s contagious — adviser Mike Simons accepted more yearbook responsibility and then solicited volunteers from his staff at Corning-Painted Post (NY) High School. Together, Simons and several of his high school staffers are working with teachers and students to produce the yearbook at the elementary school the Simons children attend. And, because he has plenty of chances to share his yearbook knowledge, passion and insights, he felt like those who volunteered should have the occasion to share theirs. Here’s what his students who are volunteering think about yearbook:

A commonly unknown fact about the word yearbook is that it also refers to a place. Yearbook is where you can go no matter how awful your day has been, no matter what has been happening at home, no matter what color your skin is, or how heavy or how skinny you are… And the second you walk into that yearbook room, you walk into this environment where nobody will look at you with any sort of negative judgment or whisper hurtful comments about you behind your back when they think you can’t hear them.

Yearbook is a safe haven. Many students feel as if they have nowhere to go, and no one to turn to… until they find the safety of yearbook. The chance to mentor the elementary school yearbook provides the opportunity for us to share that secret with the students there; joining yearbook now gives them a safe haven environment when they are young.

When we were their age, we dreamed about having a ‘big kid’ to show us the ropes and be our friend. We can be that for these elementary students, and maybe when they are sophomores in high school, they will be sitting behind their laptops writing an article like we are now because they remember us, and how we were their ‘big kids.’

When you’re from a small town, opportunities to help better the next wave of students are often scarce. When our adviser approached our staff about helping an elementary school get their yearbook off the ground, it seemed to present itself as both an opportunity — and an obligation — An obligation to assist in the betterment of the next generation of students and their ability to interact with the world in which they live.

No other class or activity could teach us how to talk to people we don’t know quite like yearbook. Going out and getting that very first interview is arguably one of the most anxiety-inducing things a human can do. You’re worried about how others may perceive you, your voice, your tone, but you’re really trying to learn about them. If you’ve ever talked to a child though, you see they don’t necessarily experience that. They’re entirely open and not so concerned with appearance as they often will speak, and act, according to whatever is on their mind. We can learn from them as well.

Whenever you think of nurture, it’s impossible not to also think of nature. It’s the decades-old argument over whether children’s skills are predestined or you can teach them to be incredible. We came into the elementary year project with one idea: Why not try to make it both? We’ve already said that young kids aren’t concerned with how other people see them —that’s nature. What we’re doing is taking that fantastic attribute and developing it into interviewing, writing and design. Helping along the development of children isn’t something very many high schoolers think about, let alone pursue. In fact, many kids our age prefer to distance themselves from younger generations in an effort to keep their reputation as being cool.

Making sure our reputation remained intact was never a factor, mostly because we are three big kids who refer to ourselves as “yerds,” and we think that’s just the coolest thing there is.

Michaela Dann, Ivan Zigas, Morgan White

Morgan White, ’17 – Part time high school student, part time caffeine-powered, drum-playing, photo-taking, semi-crafty, hockey player and lover of all things polka-dotted. In the rare event that I have any free time with this crazy schedule of mine, I spend it studying medicine in preparation for medical school, and participating in fairly odd events with my fairly crazy family.

Ivan Zigas, ’15 – I’m 17 years old and I have three jobs on top of all of my schoolwork and swimming. Two of those jobs are yearbook. I only have three friends and they are all Adobe products.

Michaela Dann, ’15 – I enjoy learning about pop culture, playing trivia with my dad and eating vegetable lo mein. From helping create new content for my school’s yearbook and website to managing accounts for TED-Ed and Academic All-stars, I appreciate the little alone time I get to relax with Netflix and a big mug of hot tea.

Motivated by Memories. I Want Them to Remember…


I remember the excitement that overwhelmed me when I was in school and the yearbooks came out. The fun my friends and I had going through and looking at each page and adding our signatures and little notes was a highlight of the year. To this day, I still enjoy getting out my yearbooks, browsing the memories and showing them to my children. They like making fun of Mommy’s hairdo from the ’80s.

I’ll be honest; when I found out my children’s school had no yearbook, I was disappointed. It’s a Catholic school, K through 8th grade, and the principal’s calendar was already overflowing. I asked her if we could we start a yearbook, and she said yes — if I took charge and just kept her in the loop.

I was not prepared for that response. I had no yearbook experience. No photography experience. Immediately, I wondered whether I had made a huge error in judgment for even asking.

Where would I start? Who should I contact? Then I remembered a friend of mine — another dance mom — who worked with Herff Jones. I immediately contacted her. We met with the principal, and POOF… we were starting a yearbook.

We hadn’t been at this school very long (at the time, my children were in kindergarten and 1st grade) and I knew I needed other moms to help me. I found two wonderful recruits in the first grade class to help and BOOM… we had a yearbook committee.

I feared the next part — actually starting the yearbook — would be harder, but when the kit box arrived on my porch, it was like Christmas. It contained everything I needed to get started. Then I realized everything had to be done using the Herff Jones Y Online program and more doubt surfaced. While I consider myself technologically challenged, I got into the process and the rest is history. It was easy. I went to school functions, took pictures, uploaded them to Y Online… CHECK.

I talked to the portrait studio and they downloaded all of the school pictures they had taken to my Dropbox. I then downloaded them to Y Online… CHECK. I had monthly meetings with the yearbook committee; sometimes we made it a Mom’s night out. Y Online became my best yearbook friend. I didn’t think I would have the time or the patience for another task to be added to my list, but this experience has been loads of fun and was super easy.

The best thing about the yearbook was when it arrived, and the time my kids opened the book and talked, laughed and enjoyed it for more than an hour! The yearbook committee is already dedicated to making the yearbook better and better every year. All the kids might not realize it now, but they will look at these many years from now and cherish them.

It overwhelms me with joy to know that my team and I have made something that will last forever.

Yearbook Club: The Experience that Keeps on Giving

Yearbook Club: The Experience that Keeps on Giving

When I volunteered for the role of yearbook adviser two years ago, I brought with me 12 years of professional experience in the world of yearbooks. The process of building a yearbook was familiar, but leading a group of kids was not. You see, the students at McKee Road Elementary School have been gifted a rare opportunity. They have a yearbook club.

McKee’s yearbook club is comprised of a group of fifth graders, all of whom applied and had to be accepted to be in the club. We meet for 30 minutes after school, once a week. We set goals, learn about the parts of a yearbook, select a theme and explore the importance of storytelling through photos and copy. Through it all, we learn more about each other, the process and — most importantly — the school community, giving us the power to make a yearbook that everyone is a part of and the whole school loves.

This year’s group took an especially impressive journey through the evolution of theme development. In the beginning, traditional ideas like stars/space, candy and countries were on the table, with countries the nominated winner. When we proceeded to brainstorm theme line possibilities, magic happened. “Around the World in 80 days.” “…180 days.” “Around McKee in 180 Days!” Ideas began to swirl; a chronological book representing the 180 days of the school year, maps, a blueprint of the school floor plan, highlighting school culture and culture related activities. The concept was born, but it didn’t end there.

One of our goals as a club is to include every student in the yearbook at least once in addition to their portrait, so it’s imperative to gain support and involvement from staff, parents and students to achieve the goal. We publicize the theme to generate excitement, ask parents and staff to submit photos of school events via the HJeshare app and send interview questionnaires home — giving every student an opportunity to have a voice in the book.

So, what begins as a task — make the yearbook — becomes an opportunity for everyone. Given the chance to learn, create and share with each other, everyone becomes invested in the process and the reward becomes not only a finished product to be proud of, but the experience of working together to make it.

The More Things Change…

The More Things Change

When my oldest — now a college freshman — started kindergarten, I started advising yearbook. That was 2000; we cut photos and glued them into collages. I loved creating a book that would preserve my son’s school days and when the students and teachers cherished our work at year’s end, I knew my time had been well spent.

My work with the yearbook continued until Austin moved out of the lower school. Then I had a few years off before our Halle started school and I resumed my role as yearbook adviser.

Our school was larger by then and I reached out to friends, encouraging them to join me. “It’s like scrapbooking,” I told them. “It’s fun. Get in here with me!” We worked together on our labor of love, collecting photos, making sure everyone was included and trying to create a book that’s fresh each year.

Since then, Elam has arrived on campus and we decided to go digital. It’s easier… and more fun, but our team continues to collaborate with teachers for pictures that preserve the year’s precious memories for our kids. A quick email to all teachers at the start of the year and a reminder after the holidays seem to do the trick. We ask for shots of special events and daily life in each classroom — and we encourage the teachers to include a couple of group shots so that all students have several photos in the yearbook.

We now use Pinterest for inspiration and we Google search photo ideas as well as brainstorming together, but our goal remains the same. We’re all about new and different. We really want the kids to wonder what the book will be like. And when they get their yearbook, we want them to look back and feel the love pop right off the pages so they’ll never forget the year.

We do the book with a small team — usually two to five of us. We divide up the work and get to it. Most of the time, we work on the yearbook at school, but it’s great that we can work at home during breaks as well. And it’s important that we know we can count on each other. Last year, my friend Alana took over when I had some health challenges. We’d worked as a team so we were on the same page. She was amazing. I didn’t have to worry about the yearbook and the whole group later celebrated my beating breast cancer together.

At our school, the joy of creating the yearbook is magnified by the reception it receives on campus. The school makes the book’s arrival a big part of year-end festivities. The teachers and administration work together to choose a time when we can all celebrate another successful year together. The students receive their books and have their friends sign them.

That’s when our work is finally done. Those last few weeks, I am so excited and anxious I can’t sleep at night. I can’t wait until the yearbook comes in. And then I’m right there in middle of it all. I love watching the students find themselves and their friends in the book and hearing their excitement about our school, our year. That’s my reward right there.

The 2015 volume is my last book here; a new teacher with yearbook experience will lead the team next year. And though some of the details may change, their goal will not. They will strive to create a yearbook that proudly preserves the school year for all of the students, their teachers and parents.

Yearbook Builds Character While Teaching Other Lessons

Yearbook builds character while teaching other lessons

A yearbook is more than a permanent collection of memories. It’s definitely an educational opportunity that’s fun — and one that provides benefits schoolwide.

There are so many ways students can be involved in the creation of an elementary school yearbook. Each year, I build in more new activities for the students in my yearbook club. They take photos, make posters, choose backgrounds and talk to their friends and classmates about the yearbook. And they get to choose the winners in our all-school cover contest.

The monthly meeting we hold before school allows my team of 20 to be involved in planning the yearbook and contributing content. It helps them break out of their grade-level bubbles as they meet with other teachers to make sure that interesting events/stories aren’t left out of the yearbook.

The students develop a sense of ownership and learn more about our school. Plus, they get to see what they can accomplish with some hard work. They understand that their opinions matter, they practice making decisions and they learn to stand by their choices.

For me, it’s a chance to work with students in a different way. I like to see them become enthusiastic when they’re working and it’s really fun to see them bask in the excitement of the school once the books arrive. They all come to my room and then help distribute the books to the other classes.

On top of that, the administration is glad to have the students learning and involved. The principal is so encouraging with my club; he’s great with them when the book finally arrives… and the club was actually started because the administration believed yearbook provided a great opportunity for the students. They couldn’t have been more right!

Related link:

Getting Started

Finding Inspiration is Very Pinteresting


We’re three weeks into the school year and my daughter already had a project assignment using math to introduce herself to the class. While I detest math of any kind, it got me to thinking about how her teacher took what is typically an English assignment and turned it into one involving math that even this numerically challenged mom could enjoy while helping coach her daughter though it.

Now I’ll be honest, fifth grade math was a long time ago and I am not entirely familiar with the “new” way that they teach our children to figure things out, but I did know that when I needed examples and inspiration on how to pictographically use math to tell a story, I could turn to my favorite online idea site, Pinterest. Turns out there are lots of ways to use math to tell a story — and not just the kind told in word problems — you can check them out here.

If you haven’t been sucked into the Pinterest vortex yet and you are looking for ideas on just about any topic, it’s a GREAT place to start. Once you have an account set up (which is free), simply create virtual pin boards and then start pinning. It’s also great fun to find “Pinners” who have similar interests to follow. I have boards set up for food, my kids, holidays and even for things to spark yearbook creativity — design, color, fonts to name just a few. Feel free to stop by, take a look and pin some of your favorites. I’d love to see what inspires you.

And while you’re searching for inspiration, be sure to check out the Yearbook is Elementary board on Herff Jones Yearbooks’ Pinterest page to get ideas for covers, themes and much, much more.

Related links:

Getting Started

Page Ladder

Engage Your Yearbook Support Team


This time of the year brings many emotions — sadness that the long, warmer days of summer are coming to an end, excitement that the cooler, crisper days of fall are just around the corner and even a little trepidation as my children engage in preparations for going back to school. While we spend time gathering the necessary supplies that their new teachers have asked for, I can’t help but think about what I need to be doing to get the yearbook for my oldest daughter’s elementary school started for this year.

Being the “yearbook mom” keeps me engaged in her activities as well as informed about her school in general which is great for this full-time working mom to be able to accomplish without having to be at school every day. However, not being there every day means that I must rely on a variety of people to help make creating and selling the yearbook a successful endeavor.

Cultivating a group of “helpers” is easier than you might think. I started with the school secretary, principal and PTO president, who then helped to introduce me to other parents who expressed interest and staff members who sponsor clubs or host special events.

I’ve also begun gathering information about the events that the PTO has planned as well as any other school-sponsored events that are already on the calendar and am keeping a list in my planner so I know what I’ll need to solicit pictures for during the year.

With that much accomplished (and school hasn’t even started here yet!), I’m feeling good and ready to go back-to-school clothes shopping now. Wish me luck.

Related links:

Getting Started

Important People to Know

Information You Need