note from teresa: Although I use the word "class" throughout this article, technically, they are not classes, but "study groups." This is an important distinction, necessary because we are not a school.
"So, what is a yearbook anyway?"
"How do you make a yearbook for homeschoolers?"
These were two questions that I heard a lot last year when I ran the yearbook program for our homeschool co-op. They were good questions. The typical yearbook has rows of photographs of students' faces arranged alphabetically by last name by homeroom class. We didn't have homerooms. We didn't have a lot of things that a yearbook generally contains: no sports teams, no school colors, no mascot, no prom.
But, when I would think about the things we do at our co-op and when I tried to explain to other people what a co-op is, it was clear we needed something. I remembered how much I enjoyed being on the yearbook staff when I was in high school and how many times over the years since then I have enjoyed looking through the pages of my yearbook. It was an experience that I wanted to share, so I thought how great it would be to have a book that documented what made our co-op so unique and wonderful.
How We Got Started
I didn't have much of a plan when I started. I knew that I wanted to offer each student a quarter of a page for whatever they wanted to do. I figured that the typical quarter page would contain a photo of the student with their name and some of their interests listed. Not everyone would want their photo in the book, so I told them that they could use their quarter page to show some of their artwork or something they'd written.
I also wanted to document the classes that are taught at the co-op. In the year that I had been a member, I had heard of the great banquets that the history and geography classes put on. I had enjoyed the end-of-term performances and seen some interesting projects brought in by kids for other classes. None of this had ever been documented and it seemed that they were now just memories. So, we started off by allocating a half page to document what each class was about.
We used this information to estimate how big a book we would be producing. We estimated that it would be in the neighborhood of 96 to 124 pages. We took a survey of everyone in the co-op and found that most would be comfortable paying up to $20 for such a book. A quick check at the various copy-and-print stores and yearbook companies showed us that this would be a realistic target.
Our most difficult task was how, when, and where to put our yearbook together. Our co-op meets three days a week in a community arts center and each class is taught once per week. My class was scheduled to meet on the stage for fifty-five minutes on Wednesday afternoons. We could set up tables, if needed. There were no computers nor any of the resources available to most yearbook classes. I had a small digital camera that I'd gotten a few months earlier after turning in twelve years of Scholastic book coupons and several of the other students also had digital cameras.
Since making a yearbook should be a fun, non-demanding activity, I did not set any age limit or prerequisites on the class size. My class usually had fourteen students, ranging in age from 8 to 16. Occasionally a student would drop or forget to come and other times I would get new students who just wanted to see what the class was about. We spent the first part of the year discussing what yearbooks were, brainstorming, and discussing how to write, photograph, and layout the pages. The second part of the year, I found it was easier to meet with the students throughout the day to discuss their assignments and to spend the class time showing them how far along we were.
How We Structured Our Yearbook
We came up with some basic rules for what each section had to include:
Class pages would be five by seven inches. Each class should have a description of something interesting that had happened or what made that class unique and/or special. There should be a quote by at least one of the students and/or teacher about what they liked in the class. And there should be at least one photo with a caption.
Student quarter pages had few rules. Mostly, we just asked that they be in good taste and be 3-1/2 x 5-1/4" in size. I got in the habit of carrying around my camera and a deck of blank index cards. I would take anyone's photo who wanted it and ask him or her to either draw or write something on the card. With a little experimentation in Adobe Photoshop, we came up with quarter pages that really reflected each student's personality.
After looking at yearbooks that some of the parents owned, some of which we borrowed from a yearbook company, we added some more sections:
The front stuff. This included all the usual things, such as a dedication, a table of contents, an editorial and the history of our co-op.
Other things we do at our co-op. Although we initially reserved this section for candid shots, it quickly became a fun section that included the overnight field trip, a list of everybody's favorite books and authors, the day one girl brought a baby lamb in, an ode to the special place that the kids liked to climb upon, and more.
A mock sports section. Although we don't really do sports per se, we imitated what we saw in the other books with our own sort of sports:
"Pizza Rush" included a poem and some funny pictures of what it was like on our pizza lunch fundraiser days.
"Synchronized Needlework" showed how many people knit, crochet, and needlepoint and some of their impressive projects.
"Chair Stacking" was our tribute to the many different ways people stacked the chairs at the end of the day.
"Dumpster Diving" explained how resourceful some of us were when the library got rid of the books that didn't sell at their fundraiser. (Our "winner" was the student who plucked John Holt's book How Children Learn out of one carton.)
"Basement Spelunking" illustrated how scary a foray into the ancient stone basement could be.
At first, we were not going to sell any ads. One student asked if he could put a mock ad in the book for an invention he would like to sell. That became the start of a very humorous section which included pictures and ads from our medieval doctor from the medieval feast day, ads for classes ("Come to the slope and have some pi in Carolyn's algebra and geometry classes"), ads for products invented by the Creative and Inventive Thinking Class, and lots more. Along the way, some of the parents inquired as to whether they could buy ads. We sold one and then asked people if they could find the "real" ad.
Getting It All Together
It was slow going at first, but, gradually, as pages started to be turned in and they could see what it was starting to look like, my staff grew more excited and turned more and more in. And as they turned more in, the rest of the co-op grew interested and suddenly I received emails every night with photos and stories attached.
Since we had no computers at the co-op, it became my job to piece the yearbook together at home. Some of the more computer-savvy students and parents sent me sections that just needed to be dropped into place. Other times, I would get layouts that were in pencil with pictures and text attached. Often I would get just a photo or some text. My staff would fill in the gaps by getting extra quotes, drawing pictures and writing copy.
I used Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word. (Photoshop was bought on Ebay for under $40. So what if it wasn't the latest version?)
Sometimes, things didn't work out quite as planned. There were some classes that did so much that we expanded their sections to a full page. There were other classes that just didn't seem to have as much to report, so we combined a few classes. We discovered that a lot of families or groups of three friends wanted to combine their quarter pages into a full page, so we ran a two-week special that let groups of three have a full page.
Our biggest issue was getting things in the right format. I use an iMac, but it doesn't have a floppy drive. We found websites like MyFamily.com and ofoto.com where people could upload their work. Then, at night, I simply downloaded it and added it to the book.
Getting It Printed
Initially, we considered going with a yearbook company as our publisher, but in the end, we needed more flexibility. The classes offered by the yearbook company as well as their website (and a few others) provided us with lots of helpful information.
In the end, we settled on a photocopier based upon the fact that they would print all of our pages from a computer CD (meaning everyone had a "master" copy). They offered us a break on their usual price since we were non-profit.
There was one "tiny" glitch. When I dropped off the CD, the printer commented that she hoped I realized they did not do continuous coil-bindings, but did loop bindings instead. I had no clue what the difference was, but figured it probably was not a big deal. When we got our copies, we discovered that as soon as you started flipping pages, they would slip out of the coils. The next morning - just a few hours before they were to be distributed at the big end-of-year party - my eldest daughter and I sat down with needles and yarn and started sewing the coils together with the first thing I grabbed: a bright multicolored yarn. When I explained it at the party, everybody understood and one mother sat down and sewed nearly all of the ones together that Laura and I had not gotten to. We decided that we like the colorful yarn bindings and that it makes a nice metaphor about what binds us all together when we look at our yearbooks and see that they are all bound with thread from same skein of yarn!
We decided to distribute the yearbooks at the end-of-term performances. A few weeks earlier, my class discussed what a book dedication was and voted to whom we could dedicate the book. It was kept as a big secret until the presentation
I hoped to sell fifty yearbooks. My goal was to sell as many yearbooks as there were families in the co-op - about eighty. Ideally, I wanted to sell one hundred and we did! Some families bought a copy for each child or for grandparents or for their child's portfolio as documentation of the co-op. We kept a few extra copies to use when our co-op looks for funds for future projects, since it provides a good idea of what we do.
For me, it was an incredible learning experience. I normally am not very good at remembering people's names. Thanks to the yearbook, not only have I learned who most people at the co-op are, but I have learned something about each of them. I showed it to a friend of mine who teaches in the public school - and even though she professed to be open-minded about homeschooling, it was our yearbook that finally convinced her that our kids are getting lots of socialization.
But best of all, was watching everyone thumbing through their yearbooks and reliving what had been a great year!
If you are interested in creating a yearbook for your homeschool co-op, here are some lessons that we learned from our experience:
- Get permission from everybody whose photo, name, or work you plan to use. We did this by sending a letter to all of the families, explaining the project, telling them how each student would have a quarter page, and asking them how they wanted their names spelled. In the future, I would recommend that the registration form for the co-op include their permission. People became more willing to give their permission as they saw the mock-ups of the book.
- Caption every photograph. It helped us figure out whether we had too many photos of any one person and not enough of others.
- Enlist the help of parents to help caption all the photos.
- Let parents review their child's quarter page. Most times, parents had no problem with what their children came up with.
- Bring in review copies for everyone to look at. In addition to having other people find the errors for us, it helped people get excited to see what our book would look like and generated more sales.
The following websites are good sources for information on how to create a yearbook:
Josten's at www.jostens.com/homeschool/yearbooks/. Jostens has a special section for homeschoolers that includes resources for creating yearbooks.
Walsworth at www.walsworthyearbooks.com. Along with a wealth of other information, Walsworth provides a guide to putting a yearbook together and teaching a class, and and extensive idea file. They also critique some of their favorite yearbooks from the year.