By David Boyce
As the 2015-16 school year progressed, staff members of the Liberty North High School yearbook, Ayrie, worked to keep the theme a secret. They knew they were putting together a special yearbook for their classmates.
Through the years, under the guidance of yearbook advisor Ronna Sparks-Woodward, the Ayrie has consistently earned All-American ratings from the National Scholastic Press Association. Awards, however, weren’t driving the 2015-16 staff. Seeing the faces of classmates in May when they open the Ayrie for the first time, was the incentive for putting in countless hours for nine months.
“It is probably my favorite part of doing the yearbook at all, because we do it for the students,” said Shelby Adkins, last year’s editor-in-chief and now a freshman at Park University. “When they first open the book and look at it, they are overjoyed, and they are included in it. It is the most rewarding experience you can get from yearbook.”
Jessica Schell, the editor-in-chief this year, echoed similar sentiments.
“That is my favorite day of the entire school year,” said Schell, who was academic/classes editor last year. “It is hectic. We are hot and sweaty, lifting boxes. Most of us are exhausted, but being able to stand there and see those kids’ faces when they open the book and find their name, it is like.…”
It is a day as special as Christmas, and they are like parents who gave their child the perfect gift.
“It is interesting, because we get to see the book come together,” said senior Emily Schonemann, who was sports editor last year. “We get to see the final product before the school does. It feels like you are revealing this huge surprise. It is almost magical, having that feeling of what it looks like, and then you present it to the school and see them fawn over it on distribution day. It is crazy watching it come together and watching how people react.”
The 2015-16 staff knew they were putting together a very good yearbook. The theme they picked was K[NO]W LIMITS.
“We tried really hard to keep the theme a secret and to make sure we fulfilled it to the best of our abilities,” Adkins said. “We put in countless hours throughout the summer and school year to make sure the theme related to the students and that it reflected what we were as a school.”
When the editorial board for the 2015-16 Ayrie gathered in the summer and continued to discuss the theme after the school year started, they looked at their school and the students and knew there was no limit to what they could achieve.
“Know your limits, but you have no limits,” Sparks-Woodward explained about the theme.
In addition to the All-American rating, the 2015-16 Ayrie received four marks of distinction in the categories of Essentials, Coverage, Writing and Editing, and Design.
“The mark of distinction in four areas, honestly, puts us in the top 5 percent in the nation,” Sparks-Woodward said. “The thing about these awards is that I always say awards come when you do your job right. Our goal is to make a yearbook that is journalistically sound that the kids love. One of the great things about this award is the criteria is created by professionals in the industry and journalism teachers. You can’t win this award without doing your job right. They know what yearbooks are supposed to be.
Most recently, the 2015-16 Ayrie received the highest rating by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.
“It is because of what these kids do. They make magic,” Sparks-Woodward said. “They go from our very first meeting when we are just talking, and in nine months, we have a 282-page book out of the work done by about 70 students.”
As proud as they are on what last year’s yearbook achieved, the editorial board for the 2016-17 staff are focused on this year. Sparks-Woodward smiles when asked about the theme this year.
Of course, it is a secret.
“I am extremely excited about it,” Sparks-Woodward said.
The hard work that Sparks-Woodward sees in the yearbook staff is what truly excites Sparks-Woodward when she discusses the upcoming yearbook with staff members like Michaela Alexander, managing editor this year, Schonemann, layout design editor, and Schell. They were all part of last year’s yearbook, and they are determined to make the 2016-17 Ayrie just as good or better than last year.
The students in yearbook get so much more out of the class than creating lasting memories in a book. They develop skills that will serve them well when they go to college and then on to the adult work world.
“The managing editor from last year recently visited us on our first deadline night, and she told us she got 100 percent on her first college written paper, and her professor was fawning over her writing, because of how good it was. She said it was because of yearbook,” Schonenmann said. “The skills we learn are definitely going to help us, and that makes me even more excited for college.”
Alexander, who is going to major in business management, knows the skills she has learned in yearbook will help her in college.
“It has taught me how to interact with staff and people I don’t typically talk to when I have to get interviews and talk to faculty,” Alexander said. “It helps me with my people skills, time management, and organizational skills, which I know I will use for the rest of my life.”
Schell’s experience in yearbook is leading directly to what she will major in college.
“For me, yearbook has decided my whole future,” Schell said. “I am majoring in graphic design because of yearbook. I want to be a graphic designer. This is going to be my future. Just about every aspect we use in this classroom is something that is going to help shape everything in my life.”
Simply put, Adkins said, yearbook teaches many life skills that will serve you well.
“You not only learn how to write journalistically; you learn how to talk to people. You learn time management. You learn how to hit a deadline and how to get along with other people. That is what makes me love it so much.”
Throughout the school year, Sparks-Woodward sees the dedication by the students who work on the yearbook. It is truly a collaborative effort. Staff members check, double check, and triple check everybody’s name and every fact to make sure there are no mistakes. That, by itself, is pressure.
Sparks-Woodward started to tear up when asked about working with dedicated, creative students. She showed her emotions while sitting at a table in her class with Schell, Alexander, and Schonemann.
“We are like a family,” she said. “I am blessed to work with some of the most amazing people year after year who make this an unbelievable profession. The district is real supportive. They recognize what we do. I tell these kids they are here for maybe one year or four years, but what carries on is the yearbook. These kids are rungs in this ladder of excellence they have created. I don’t know many journalism programs that are able to do what we do, but it is because these students have had great teachers and parents from the very beginning. I get to see them at the end. I see everything they learned over 16 years of life come to fruition.”