How Our Yearbook Went from Ground Zero to Award-Winning

How Our Yearbook Went from Ground Zero to Award Winning

I consider myself competitive, not in the sporty sense, but in other aspects of life, such as playing board games, working on projects and creating a yearbook. But I must say, it has taken me 15 years to win a Crown from Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

I had three barriers:

  1. The yearbook representative I worked with for my first seven years did not send me to workshops or camps or tell me about professional journalistic organizations (This was not Herff Jones.)
  2. I had an after school club that met once a week, which left me doing much of the yearbook myself.
  3. I did not realize the importance of having my yearbook critiqued, especially since it was a junior high school book (grades 8-9).

It was not until I changed yearbook companies, began teaching a class during the school day, attended workshops and camps and joined Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 2012 that my yearbook began to take a new life of its own.

Be prepared to be shocked. I thought our yearbook was really good, or at least not too bad…

When I received our first critique, it came with many suggestions for improvement. This can be a bit daunting at first, but this is what I asked for when I submitted my book. However, this feedback would completely alter the journalistic and photographic quality of our yearbook. We received a silver medal for our first submission. With your critique…

  1. Keep the to-do list short and attainable

I decided which suggestions would be easy to change and made a short list of what I wanted to improve the next year. You cannot do it all in one year unless you want to burn out.

  1. Continue to polish and improve

The following year I added more to my list of improvements and kept the ones I had established. Although I received a bit less feedback for improvements, we received another silver medal, but our points were creeping closer to a gold medal.

  1. Receive feedback from other people

While I submitted our book to CSPA, I had our yearbook critiqued by Bruce Watterson each time we attended Georgia Yearbook Expo. I compiled his suggestions along with the others I had received to make further improvements.

  1. Go for the Gold

We won a gold medal for our 2015 and 2016 yearbook. I was ecstatic because our book was finally becoming journalistically mature. I found out a few months later that our 2015 yearbook was nominated for a Crown. When I attended the conference at Columbia University in the spring, we proudly received a Gold Crown. This past year, our 2016 book received a Silver Crown.

  1. Analyze Yearbooks

After winning a Crown, I was asked if I would like to analyze yearbooks. This is great opportunity because it allows me to see other books, glean ideas, make suggestions and praise what yearbook staffs are doing well. I enjoy helping others improve their yearbooks, but most of all, it reinforces what I need to be doing myself. Reviewing yearbooks is time consuming if you want to be thorough, but it is beneficial to the staff because you want to honor the time they have put into their book and also the finance it costs to become a member of these journalistic organizations.

A Few Yerdy Tips:

  1. Start with one journalistic organization because they can be expensive to join. I suggest Columbia Scholastic Press Association and National Scholastic Press Association. Another organization is Journalism Education Association, which allows advisors to submit student work and awards students for outstanding achievement.
  2. If you are on a budget, have a professional or consultant at one of Herff Jones’ camps analyze your yearbook. It is nominal fee compared to joining an organization.
  1. If you are worried about submitting a middle/junior high school yearbook, do not let this stop you. These yearbooks are just as important as high school yearbooks and your staff needs to know that with the right tools and knowledge they can go from ground zero to award-winning.

Teaching the Real World Skills They’ll Need

Teaching the Real World Skills They'll Need

Over the past few months, I have taken the time to network with industry experts on LinkedIn.  Through LinkedIn, I have made contacts and have also taken my students into the industry. In doing so, I have provided my students with the opportunity to see how the skills they are learning in publications are transferable in the real world. In addition, each and every business we have visited has offered to keep in contact with my students with possible internship opportunities down the road.

Teaching the Real World Skills They'll Need

This opportunity allowed me to teach (and reiterate) some basic life skills like…

  1. Make eye contact
  2. Do your research before we visit
  3. Ask meaningful questions
  4. Say please and thank you
    (And, my all time favorite…)
  5. Send a handwritten thank you note

Teaching the Real World Skills They'll Need

Teaching the Real World Skills They'll Need

Teaching the Real World Skills They'll Need

I believe my students now see the value of the skills they have learned. In addition, instead of facing end-of-the-year “senioritis,” I now have a more engaged classroom. I have students, on their own, making business cards, creating resumes and applying for summer internships in the industry — none of this is required or suggested by me. They no longer see themselves as “just high school students.”

Ironically, one of my students has an interview with a local magazine on Friday. The student’s mom told her, “You better tell them you are not a real journalist; you are just a student.” That mentality has to end. Changing that mindset all begins with the expectations we set for our students and the experiences we are able to provide them.

Square One: How Yearbooks Take Shape

Square One: How Yearbooks Take Shape

He stood on the workshop stage talking about his calling of putting “souls on paper,” and then explained a simple methodology for allocating the real estate of a yearbook spread, providing more opportunities for those soulful stories to emerge.

He is Steve Kent, our Herff Jones yearbook representative and consultant in Roanoke, Va., and the approach he discussed is something he named Square One.

“It’s about turning zeros into ones,” Steve said several times in his presentation referring to students with zeros next to their names in coverage reports.

Those students’ hearts will sink when they turn to the indices in the backs of their yearbooks and discover their only contributions to the book – and of the year as recorded – was sitting for a portrait. A mention elsewhere, and an additional page reference beside their names, tells them they were part of something. Part of the community. Part of the year in the history of their schools.

A logical – and easy – formatting approach for placing photographs and words on pages, Square One is based on reimagining the “architecture” of pages into a modern grid. This grid allows for both interchangeable modules of content and separation space between them, if the staff so chooses.

Many high-profile yearbook staffs have been using grid-based formatting for decades. Review the pages of a Crown winner from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association or a Pacemaker winner from the National Scholastic Press Association, and you’ll see a dedication to souls on paper that has won awards. But what makes Square One a breakthrough is its ease of use, its focus on getting more and more students onto pages and the speed with which contemporary spreads can be created. Its ease and speed free staff members to explore more stories, more photographs, more facets of the story of the year and to tell that story through more voices than ever before.

To say “we’re changing how yearbooks take shape” is a bold statement, and Herff Jones embraces it.

We’ve leveraged our network of staffs, gained input and tested this approach for years before launching it today, May 1, 2017.

We are taking the benefits of grid design to our international family of schools. We have enabled our industry-leading eDesign online program to embody this grid, this architecture. Herff Jones’ staffs may now select the Swiss grid while setting up their books in eDesign, or download formatted templates for InDesign.

And, just like that, the contemporary architecture is in place!

Staffs using eDesign or InDesign may choose from our libraries of pre-built, interchangeable modules or create their own.

New advisers will find in Square One the confidence they need to begin, and veterans looking to change things up will find a refreshing approach with which to inspire their staffs.

In spring design clinics and workshops, an army of Square One “evangelists” is ready to share this approach. From the islands of Hawaii, across the Great Plains to the southern-most beaches of Florida, excitement is growing for Square One.

Nath Kapoor, a sophomore and editor-in-chief at Eastside High School in Taylors, S.C., said, “An ‘aha’ moment occurs when the jumble of picas and gutters and modules and white space comes together to form a well-designed page so the stories about people who matter in your community can shine.”

Nath’s “stories about people who matter in your community,” is another way to describe what Steve Kent’s calling to put “souls on paper.”

The real estate on the page, the grid, the mods, the materials and surrounding support are all instruments for including more students in the yearbook more times.

Sharing meaningful stories and capturing “souls on paper” is why so many yerds and advisers love what they do. Those tasks can be easier when you start with Square One.

So — About That Picture You Downloaded from the Internet…

So — About That Picture You Downloaded from the Internet…

As my staff developed coverage both this year and last to capture the historic 2016 presidential campaign, they found themselves needing high-quality images of the candidates. One of my students said in February 2016, “Well, they’re public figures. Can’t we just download images from the internet, you know, if they’re high quality enough?”  

The answer, due to copyright laws, is of course, “No.”  

Most of the time.

In December 2002, an organization called the Creative Commons released six copyright licenses that allow content creators to find a way to license their work beyond the then-traditional “all rights reserved” copyright that most people are aware of. Now nearly a decade and a half old, the Commons’ licenses give creators the opportunity to share their work, and other creators to access works that might otherwise be unavailable to them.

In our case, our students needed a set of portraits of the Democratic and Republican primary contenders, and we didn’t have the means for a yearbook staff member to capture those images first-hand. Instead, we turned to Google, searching “creative commons candidate portraits,” and found that the first hit was from — an article about college student Gage Skidmore. Skidmore, an Arizona State University accounting major, shot and posted tens of thousands of CC-licensed images of the candidates in recent years, and has well over 30 million hits at his Flickr page, where users can download and make use of his images, provided they credit the work under a Creative Commons attribution share-alike, or “CC-BY-SA,” license. Skidmore’s photographs were used by President Trump’s own website, in addition being featured at, the Washington Post and via the Associated Press.

Staffs and advisers interested in learning more about the Commons’ licenses can go here:

You can see our staff’s primaries and campaign page here:

So — About That Picture You Downloaded from the Internet…

The Creative Commons licenses can be applied to more than just photographs. Our video team at Tesserae has used CC-licensed songs as music beds for our advertisements and other content, sourcing music from the Free Music Archive, BenSound and SoundCloud, among others. Remember that the burden is on you, as the user, to do your homework with each album, song or other creative work to ensure that it is licensed to you under the Creative Commons, and that you do due diligence on crediting the creators with bylines and attribution in your videos, pages, spreads and books.

Push and Empower your Students

Push and Empower your Students

The cover and front and back endsheets arrived (and, yes, we ARE a summer delivery book.) They were BEAUTIFUL! I was so impressed by my students work that I wanted to shout from the rooftops. In an effort to provide my students with real world opportunities, I decided to ask the school administration if my students could present their theme concept to them. Why not, right? This is what they would have to do if they were working for an ad agency and had to pitch their campaign to a potential client. The principals said yes and anticipated presentation day.

Sixth hour arrived. My four editors and one assistant editor were standing in the hall nervous about what they were going to say. When I saw what was going on I went out into the hall and put a kybosh on their nerves. I explained to them that this was their opportunity to showcase their work for the year and to explain their vision.

Thirty minutes later the editors returned to the classroom with confidence, but they were also empowered. The energy in the room was so contagious. The administration was so impressed, they asked the editors to prepare a video explaining the theme to show to the entire school. In addition, they wanted to allow the students to create a mini-lesson which would help add depth to our theme by getting student feedback. Then, they wanted us to advertise how students can get their hands on this book. The administration wants us to infuse our theme into the fabric of our community.

By empowering my students to showcase what could be a controversial theme, we got the administration to buy into it. In addition, the students gained valuable presentation skills. I call that a win-win!

An Award Opportunity from NSPA for Outstanding Staffers

An Award Opportunity from NSPA for Outstanding Staffers

Is your staff a member of NSPA? If so, think of your most outstanding, dedicated, go-getter staffers. Think about how they’re going to take the fine-tuned skills that yearbook has taught them and use them in the future. You’re probably having a proud adviser moment right about now.

Well, NSPA provides an opportunity for students who achieved a 3.5 or higher GPA and who have worked in student media for at least two years to be listed on  the association’s Journalism Honor Roll. If the nominated students also happen to be seniors, they can enter into another competition for a chance to be awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

All Honor Roll inductees will receive a certificate of recognition, and a listing of all inductees into the Honor Roll will be published in NSPA’s Best of the High School Press.

The entry deadline is February 24, 2017. Enter here.

Varsity Brands is Searching for the Most Spirited Yearbook

Varsity Brands is Searching for the Most Spirited Yearbook

The Varsity Brand School Spirit Awards opened on January 23 and include lots of categories that students, faculty and groups in your school could be eligible to win — including a new, and very special category named “Most Spirited Yearbook Award.” You know how it goes though — if you don’t play, you can’t win. But in this case, if you don’t enter, you can’t win. So what are you waiting for? The book your staff is slaving over right now could win an award even before the last deadline is submitted. Here’s what you need to know:

  • All entries must include a 500-word essay explaining why the nominee (the 2016-2017 yearbook and yearbook staff) is deserving of the award.  
  • A letter of recommendation is also required from a principal, administrator or community leader.
  • Two photos of the nominee and their work
  • Optional: links to additional media (including but not limited to press releases, videos, photos, articles, etc.)

Here is an official description and additional, specific requirements:

The most memorable school yearbooks have a theme that sets it apart from other school years – a theme that captures the specific spirit and personality of that group of students. Themes based on school pride are perennial favorites. We’re looking for a pride-themed yearbook that publicly celebrates achievements large and small, group and individual contributions to the school.

  • Nominee must be a high school
  • Essay should include specific examples of school pride from the 2016 or 2017 yearbook
  • Nominee must upload up to 5 pages from the 2016 or 2017 yearbook

Your staff and the work you do deserves recognition. The deadline to enter is February 13 — good luck!

An Awesome Opportunity for High School Juniors

An Awesome Opportunity for High School Junior

If you have passionate, driven and journalism-loving high school juniors on your staff, pay close attention. These individuals have the chance to apply to be one of only 51 high school juniors chosen to attend the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference at the Newseum in Washington D.C. June 17-22, 2017.

The 51 chosen rising seniors will receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C where they’ll delve deep into exciting and rewarding learning experiences. Not only that, but each student will receive a $1,000 scholarship to the college of their choice — how exciting!

Just make sure they apply by February 1 at!

Ideas That Fly Named Merit Winner in HOW In-House Design Awards

Ideas That Fly Named Merit Winner in HOW In-House Design Awards

Herff Jones Ideas That Fly, a “yearbook of yearbooks” was chosen as a Merit winner in the most recent HOW In-House Design Awards — one of only 88 winning designs from nearly 1,000 submitted entries. This highly selective and well-regarded competition sponsored by HOW magazine recognizes the best creative work produced by designers doing in-house work for corporations, associations and organizations.

HOW’s editorial and design team — along with Andy Brenits (president of the Board at InSource), Shani Sandy (executive creative director at S&P Global and digital lead at InSource) and Vanessa Dewey (art director at Mattel Inc.) — selected winning projects that demonstrated an ideal mix of concept, strategy and execution. Entries were judged by business category (e.g., business-to-business, consumer, education) and also by how effectively the design achieved the stated business goals.

Ideas That Fly showcases the best covers, themes, layouts, coverage and photography from hundreds of yearbooks printed by Herff Jones and serves as a source of inspiration for yearbook staffs all across the country and Canada. The Herff Jones Yearbook Marketing team in Charlotte, NC works to organize submissions, browse through each and every one, choose the best examples and showcase them in a brilliantly designed volume.

Project title: Ideas That Fly Volume 21

Company: Herff Jones, LLC

Creative team: Ann Akers, Heidi Lilly, Lynn Strause, Kristen Creed, Greg Rutkowski and Rashaad Bilal

All Merit winners will be featured in the Winter 2016 issue of HOW magazine and will be spotlighted on

About HOW

Founded in 1985, the HOW brand began its life as a print magazine. Today, the brand still includes an award-winning design magazine, but has grown to encompass a host of products and events including several design competitions, HOW U’s online design courses, design books (available at and more. Whether you work for a design firm, for an in-house creative department or for yourself, it’s our mission to serve the business, creativity and technology needs of graphic designers.

About Herff Jones

Indianapolis-based Herff Jones is the leading provider of graduation, achievement and educational products and services designed to inspire achievement and create memorable experiences for young people. A division of Varsity Brands, Herff Jones’ products include class rings and jewelry, yearbooks, motivational and recognition tools. Focused on building long-term relationships, the professionals at Herff Jones have been helping elevate the student experience and celebrate academic milestones for nearly 95 years. For more information about Herff Jones or Varsity Brands, please visit, or

About Varsity Brands

With a mission to inspire achievement and create memorable experiences for young people, Varsity Brands elevates the student experience, promotes participation and celebrates achievement through three unique but interrelated businesses: Herff Jones, A Varsity Achievement Brand; BSN SSPORTS, A Varsity Sport Brand; and Varsity Spirit. Together, these business units promote personal, school and community pride through their customizable products and programs to elementary and middle schools, high schools, and colleges and universities, as well as church organizations, professional and collegiate sports teams and corporations. With more than 4,600 dedicated employees and independent sales representatives, Varsity Brands reaches its individual and institutional customers each year via catalog, telesales, e-commerce sites and direct sales channels.

A Yearbook Staff’s Power to Impact

A Yearbook Staff’s Power to Impact

National Yearbook Week gives us an excuse to dig even deeper than usual to find stories that really hit home. It gives us a reason to share the amazing things that student journalists uncover and reveal through yearbook volume after volume. We reached out to a few staffs that are making a true difference and found inspiring stories (and coverage ideas!) that we as a community can all agree are simply heartwarming. You and your staff aren’t just making a difference now, or in the spring, summer or fall when yearbooks are distributed. You’re making a difference that will last long after each student and peer no longer walks the halls of your school — a difference that is sure to last years beyond now, each and every time the book is cracked open. What a validating job you’ve been chosen to fulfill! Happy National Yearbook Week, yerds! Below is one staffer’s inspiring story on giving students who felt silenced, a voice.

“Deadlines arrived and I was assigned an interrupter spread. This meant I had the freedom to choose what went on those pages in the Student Life section. As I started brainstorming, I thought about the power of one person and the change one person could create. I knew that a wheelchair-bound student named Alex had sent the administration a scathing letter about how no one at the school accepted him — how day after day he was disrespected, ignored and cut off by people in a hurry. The administration came to our publications staff and asked us what we could do.

A colleague of mine in Newspaper began to interview Alex. We simultaneously wrote for our respective publications. I wanted kids in my school who didn’t usually have a voice to have an opportunity to be heard. When Alex Rossi released his letter, it went viral throughout school. Everyone in the school knew about it, and most reacted in a positive way. I wanted him to be heard again and to make his message last.

I figured if I put it in the yearbook, then it would be there forever and Alex could know that his story made a difference, and that he was heard. I wanted everyone to know that this type of stuff goes on in our school every day. And if some students felt as if they did not belong, there was something I could do about it.

Soon after that, we had a Common Ground meeting (a monthly meeting whereby a group of 25 students meet to discuss a specific topic) where a video was shown about students who were intellectually and physically challenged, and they were asked to share what certain words meant to them. Simple words like “being a buddy”, caring, being included, respect and many others. I then saw a way to showcase those thoughts on my spread. I decided that a chart would be another opportunity to feature their opinions. Even though I was not able to get all of the students, I believe that the idea that all students have a voice was still accomplished.

On this same spread, four Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students worked with a DHH social worker to surprise the female student body. Before school the girls wrote positive, uplifting messages on different colored Post-It notes and posted them in girls’ bathrooms throughout the building. It was a simple gesture, but it became so much more. They became the Post-It bandits.

A few days after they did this, News Channel 4 came to Parkway West and Steve Harris from Harris’ Heroes interviewed the girls, as well as three girls with an outside point of view. I thought what these girls did was very inspiring. They did it anonymously at first and they didn’t expect any recognition — they simply did it for the purpose to help at least one girl have a good day. I thought it was important to recognize them on my page as well for the fact that they were selfless and did a small act that was worth talking about.

By working on this spread, I learned the power of journalism. It was confirmed that I had the power to inspire goodness in a world that is filled with plenty of bad news. As a journalist, I was able to document the positive experiences students had throughout the year. My hope was by sharing the good, I could continue to inspire others to do great things. Yearbooks last forever. Wouldn’t it be cool if these stories continued to inspire generations to come?

With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, our generation sees everything immediately, in the here and now. No one stops to think about the future and the power of print. I am so grateful to be a part of a process that will allow future generations to see my experience.”