There will always be a yearbook.

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Like most advisers, Shawnee Mission South’s Tucker Love was a little unsure how the book would happen. But as the year continued, he watched his staffers step up and deftly navigate the challenges.

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I’ve always loved yearbook.

More than anything, I think it is the one thing that ties everyone in a school together. Between coverage of clubs, feature stories on athletes and student leaders, everyone’s portrait in columns and rows, yearbooks capture moments and tell the story of the year.

So, the first time I got the question “Are we even going to have a yearbook?” from a parent after school started in September, my immediate response was “Yes, of course.” I wanted to believe that, but I’d be lying if I didn’t start to think about how it would actually happen.

I didn’t know what yearbook in pandemic would look like, but I did know that things were still happening in and around Shawnee Mission South. That meant that we had opportunities to capture the moments and tell the stories in Heritage 2021.

Our district was one that approached the pandemic extremely cautiously. We were one of the last in the Kansas City area to return to fall sports practices and competitions. Students started the year fully online and didn’t switch to hybrid until late October, following the leadership of our superintendent and his decision to follow the science and guidelines of the health department, not the voices of disgruntled community members who thought kids should just be back in school. This cautious approach also meant changes for my student journalists.

Photojournalists could only attend the varsity football games if I was present as their supervisor. I had to submit student names to the athletics office for every sporting event they wanted to attend and document. The number of emails I sent skyrocketed as I tried to manage who was going to what event and when. One thing I noticed though was the desire to be at these events. My students were craving something that just felt normal. Being able to go take pictures of the Homecoming crowning or a boys soccer game or KSMS filming a welcome back video was that “normal” for them. They were documenting anything and everything they could, which meant we would have a yearbook.

21_Shawnee Mission South3 860At the first football game, adviser Tucker Love listens to a workshop session on the sidelines. COVID-19 concerns limited photojournalists at sporting events and required advisers attend football games to supervise. Photo by Tucker Love

In an online environment, reporters had little to no access to interview students in person. The “Zoom fatigue” was real for all students, so convincing a random freshman to do a WebEx call with a reporter was nearly impossible. It was nearly impossible to convince the reporter that it was the best option! Instead, my students had to resort to numerous Google Form surveys, sending Instagram and Snapchat DMs or emailing students and staff multiple times during online and hybrid learning. Some got even more creative and spent breaks during their sports practice to interview teammates about their online school experience or what they thought about the marching band not being able to perform during halftime or whatever. They figured out a way to connect and tell stories which meant we would have a yearbook.

I saw my students stepping up to these challenges in ways I didn’t expect. Being a student leader for a staff that has never met each other in person is difficult. Really, difficult doesn’t even begin to describe it. But I watched my editor-in-chief navigate that space, sending regular weekly updates on events, doing individual staff check-ins in breakout rooms, offering to meet people at a coffee shop or park to teach design. I saw spreads being created which meant we would have a yearbook.

After we moved into a hybrid learning model, I saw younger editors begin to dig in and really get to work on creating a yearbook that they could share with South. Conversations with them led to conversations with our principal which led to our first in-person worknight. While I could only have four to six students come to those first few worknights, it was a moment that felt a little more normal. We started printing pages and proofing content; it meant there would be a yearbook.

21_Shawnee Mission South1 860A-group students in 6th hour yearbook make mood boards during their first day of hybrid learning during second semester. Students transitioned from online learning to hybrid for the second time this school year, Jan. 26. Photo by Tucker Love

This year has been hard. I have asked my student editors and staff to do a lot in the midst of a pandemic. I have tried to have high expectations while still operating with grace and the mindset that we can only do what we can do.

And in the face of a pandemic, my students have truly blown me away. They have come in on their at-home days to work, stayed after school and practices, convinced me to do Saturday work days, shared their ideas and collaborated with each other. They stayed until 10 p.m. every night during our final deadline week and they got the yearbook done.

Because they wanted to make sure that there would be a yearbook. Because even during a pandemic, there will be a yearbook.

21_Shawnee Mission South6 860Editor-in-chief Keely Wright and assistant editor-in-chief Samantha Santibanez react after submitting their final set of pages on Friday, April 16, the final deadline date. Editors spent every night of the final week working to finish proofs and spring sport pages. Photo by Tucker Love

Tucker Love is the journalism teacher and publications adviser at Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, Kansas. Love has been advising for three years and enjoys working with students to create newspapers and yearbooks. When he’s not at school, he might be buying plants for his tiny apartment or drinking cold brew after running. You can follow Tucker and the publication staffs on Twitter at @tlovejournalism, @SMSHeritage (yearbook) and @SMSPatriot (newspaper).

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