Self-described ‘yerds’ at Rye and Suffern craft award-winning annuals
(The top editors at Suffern’s Panorama yearbook, from left: Lior Gensler (photo); Sarah Griffin (business); Nicole Haubner (design) and editor-in-chief Nora Patwell in the classroom where the award-winning annual takes shape. Photo by Tania Savayan/The Journal News.)
When Suffern’s Nora Patwell and Rye’s Maddie Bianchi and Jessica Weakley arrive at their high schools each day, they are walking into work.
Yes, they have homework and tests to take, but the three seniors are also editors in chief of their schools’ award-winning yearbooks — Panorama at Suffern, Stagecoach at Rye — and they take their jobs seriously.
There are always events to cover, photos to take, students to interview, staffs to oversee and deadlines to meet.
And they have to get it right. After all, the books they produce — created in the instant age of vanishing Tweets and Facebook status updates — will be thumbed through and clutched at reunions for generations. Years from now, when Suffern and Rye alumni from the class of 2012, their memories fading, want to remember these good-old-days, they’ll turn to their yearbooks and see the work these 17-year-olds helped to create.
This labor of love, the editors and their staffs say, is all-consuming.
“Every conversation we have turns to yearbook,” Suffern’s Patwell says. “It’s not a class, it’s a lifestyle. When friends ask me if I want to hang out or go out to eat, they know my answer: ‘Sorry, I have yearbook.’”
They are yearbook nerds: Yerds.
“We are full-fledged, proud yerds,” says Patwell, beaming. She and her top editors Sarah Griffin (business), Lior Gensler (photo), and Nicole Haubner (design) all went to yearbook camp at Gettysburg College last summer, to learn tricks of the trade and to help craft the all-important theme and design concepts that will drive the Panorama staff this year.
The yearbook theme is a well-kept secret at both schools, revealed when the books arrive in spring. Rye announces the theme, and the identity of the teacher to whom the book is dedicated, at the senior breakfast. At Suffern, staffers drop hints about the theme, but don’t reveal it till the books arrive in June.
Suffern and Rye have a tradition of yearbook excellence. Both books have been silver medalists and received silver crown awards from the prestigious Columbia Scholastic Press Association.
At Rye, co-editor-in-chief Weakley says the bar is high.
“All of us, especially with the school that we go to, appreciate going beyond the regular thing,” she says. “We want something that stands out, that’s extraordinary and that we can look back on and really get a good sense of what our high-school years are like.”
Technology has changed the way the books are created. Editors upload photos and create layouts on publisher websites, making it possible for students to work on the yearbook from anywhere anytime. But the goal is still the same: to capture this year in photos and text in a hard-bound volume.
There are still must-haves, senior photos and sports and clubs, but staffs are also out to cover the songs students listen to, the fashions they wear, the technology they use.
In last year’s Stagecoach, a two-page spread titled “Bumps in the Road” had a photo of a student car with a ticket on it, a student cramming for the SAT and a brief in which students debated the identity of an anonymous Twitter author called Rye Problem. When Suffern’s hockey team won the state title last year, editors switched gears and beefed up the coverage in the Panorama.
Both books are created by a yearbook class, which students must apply to.
At Suffern, adviser Debra Frey’s class is open to sophomores through seniors. This year’s Panorama will be created by 17 students, covering a student body of 1,542, 361 of whom are seniors. It’s an all-school book, with the goal of presenting every student — freshman through seniors — at least three times.
Panorama photo editor Lior Gensler, 17, a senior, says new staffers are brought up to speed at a weeklong boot camp at summer’s end.
“We taught them how to use a camera, what’s a caption and a lead-in, how to frame a picture, what aperture you use, the rule of thirds,” he says.
At Rye, yearbook class is for juniors and seniors only, working in pairs as mentors and mentees. The senior editors teach the junior staffers in the fall, work beside them in the winter, and tend to step back a bit toward the spring, as the juniors step up to take the reins for the following year. Adviser Tony Campbell teaches the 28-student yearbook class and interviews prospective staffers. While there are 887 students in the school, the focus of the book, editors say, is largely on seniors, who number 221 this year.
Rye’s co-editor Maddie Bianchi says senior profiles, two-page spreads added throughout the book last year, gave readers a more in-depth look at school stars in arts, academics and athletics.
The job demands sacrifices.
“When you’re on yearbook, you’re never involved in the activity,” Patwell says with a laugh. “When we have a carnival and everyone’s having cotton candy, we don’t get cotton candy. We take pictures of kids with cotton candy.”
Both books are a publishing business, with ads to sell and a bottom line to adhere to. Suffern’s book costs $70,000 to produce and sells for $100 ($90 if purchased before January); Rye’s budget last year was $103,000, but Campbell says a new publisher this year will cut that cost. The 2012 Stagecoach will sell for $75 before Dec. 25, $85 after.
Advertising adds to the bottom line, with families purchasing a page, or sometimes a couple of pages, in the back of the book. At Rye, a full-page ad sells for $300; at Suffern, it’s $400.
At both schools, parents submit photos and a dedication and the staff lays out the ad using several available templates. Kristin McHugh, 17, one of Rye’s design editors, and Nicole Haubner at Suffern both say the change makes for a more professional-looking book.
Rye design editor Emma Jennings, 17, agrees.
“We’re looking for a timeless look,” she says. “We don’t want to look back in 10 years and say, ‘Oh my god!’”
The ad-design back-and-forth with parents helped students develop valuable customer-service skills, Rye’s advisor Campbell says.
“Sometimes, students would get a belligerent blowback from parents and one of the older students would help them write the email to the parent,” he says. :It was a great learning experience.”
Copy editor Ava Bradley, 17, worked on a yearbook in Vietnam last year before transferring to Rye. She says she’s impressed by the Stagecoach staff’s professionalism.
“This staff does it so well,” she says. “It’s obvious in the book, but it’s so fluid,” Bradley says. “The staff knows what they’re doing and they know from the beginning how to start, how to train the next group of kids. Rye is just a very good yearbook.
“It’s very easy to make a bad yearbook,” she says.
See more a gallery of photos from Rye and Suffern here.
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