GREENVILLE — Back in January when students were working to put together the yearbook at Arendell Parrott Academy, coronavirus got a small mention as an event that was making news in China. But when copies of Patriot are delivered this spring, COVID-19 will be prominently featured in the 2020 edition.
That is not only true at Parrott. As the number of infections has grown throughout the country, so has the number of pages that high school yearbooks have dedicated to the virus. While a pandemic is hardly the usual fare for a school publication, students and faculty members agree that this is one for the books.
“I feel like it was probably necessary for us to put it in there because it is such a big thing that’s happening,” said Ayden-Grifton High School senior Alyssa Dunn, co-editor of The Charger. “Everybody is impacted by it.”
When Alyssa went home on March 13 for what was optimistically planned as a two-week school closure, she thought the break might give her a chance to catch up on some yearbook work that she had not gotten around to completing. But as it became more clear that schools wouldn’t be opening their doors anytime soon, Alyssa and yearbook adviser Cathy Smith began making plans to open more pages for coverage of the pandemic.
“I’ve never covered anything like this at all,” said Smith, who is in her fifth year as yearbook adviser. “It’s totally new.”
The Charger generally focuses its coverage on school events without giving much attention to news off campus. But there are times when campus and community news collide, like in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew made landfall in North Carolina.
“It has to be pretty big for us to put it in there, actually,” Smith said. “Each page is precious.”
Unlike the hurricane, which disrupted the fall semester, the pandemic affected eastern North Carolina just before spring, when yearbooks are nearing their publication deadlines.
The Oakwood School had to submit its final content the first week in March, before coronavirus was declared a pandemic and a state of emergency was announced in North Carolina. That is why there is no mention of it in this year’s edition of The View.
“(Otherwise) we would have definitely included it,” said Lauren McTindal, Oakwood’s yearbook adviser. “Our school format changed drastically (to online learning), so I think that would have been a very important story to include.”
J.H. Rose High School had a late March deadline to meet for its yearbook, Reflections. In a typical year, that would be enough time to get some photos of spring sports, but this year’s seasons were canceled just as many were beginning.
Adviser Tim Davis sent his yearbook students to get whatever shots they could and to interview athletes after practice March 12. Still, staffers had to use file photos from 2019 for baseball, and school ended before they could complete a photo session for two senior superlatives pages.
Back in February, Davis, who had been following world news of the coronavirus, had suggested that information about its spread should be considered for a section titled “Unforgettable Moments.” When school was canceled, the two pages grew to four.
“I thought about when this really exploded that this is going to be one of those moments that you will always look back and say, ‘What was I doing?’ It’s like ‘Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when 9/11 happened?’” said Davis, who has served as adviser for eight years. “To me, it was one of those type of moments.”
Yearbook adviser Melissa Lambert was at Parrott on Sept. 11, 2001. She has been involved with the school yearbook for more than 20 years and has seen Patriot win half a dozen state and regional awards and five national gold medals in the last five years.
This year’s book, a 330-page volume, is the 50th annual edition of Patriot, containing a representation of half a century’s worth of Parrott yearbooks. When school was called off on March 13, Lambert went home with 50 pages left to complete, including several that cover coronavirus.
“There was no way we could end the book without talking about coronavirus,” Lambert said. “Your newspaper wouldn’t not cover coronavirus. We kind of look at yearbook the same way.
“Your yearbook is a record of that year. It’s not just ‘Suzie Q’ was voted homecoming queen but also who was voted president of the United States,” she said. “It’s supposed to be that 20 years from now you could pull that book out and say, ‘I remember when that happened.’”
Yearbooks from 2020 will include some very different memories of the academic year, from distance learning and social distancing to community service activities during the pandemic.
At Trinity Christian School, coronavirus has cost high school students things like the spring fine arts competition and junior-senior trip. Those events traditionally have been part of the school yearbook, which is published in summer so that it can include the full academic year.
Yearbook adviser Katelyn Stocks needed coronavirus content to fill the book.
“I had a whole section of spring events that was no longer going to be there,” she said. “We don’t want a blank yearbook.”
That’s why, in place of spring sports and the junior-senior banquet, the yearbook will include pictures of students meeting with their classes on Zoom or creating posters to thank health-care workers or other essential employees.
Yearbook publisher Jostens offered prefabricated pages containing information about COVID-19, but Stocks chose not to use many of those.
“We didn’t want to overload the book with that,” she said. “Our book is for our kids. We want to include what they’re doing whether that be at school, playing sports or at home bonding with their family.”
Stocks invited students to share their thoughts on changes brought by the pandemic, from what they missed most about being in school to the latest they had been allowed to “sleep in.”
Ayden-Grifton took a similar approach with some of its coronavirus content, including contributed photos of “online spirit week” and teachers delivering meals.
Some of the pages are designed to allow students to write about their experiences during the unprecedented school closure. There are spaces to list their “favorite social distancing activity,” who they spent time with and what they were reading.
“It’s sad, especially the seniors missing their milestones,” Smith said. “But we want to keep it positive (by including) how people are coming together in this bad situation, how we took lemons and made lemonade.”
At Parrott, one of the positive elements was getting an extension on the production deadline. Lambert ended up with more time to finish this edition because of a temporary shutdown at Herff Jones during the pandemic. The school does not yet know how much the closure will affect delivery of the yearbook.
With schools closed through the end of the academic year, they face an additional challenge of how to get books to students who ordered them. Davis expects that Rose will set up some kind of drive-through distribution like the one organized to hand out caps and gowns, but he is concerned that sales will suffer.
The school generally sells about 250 yearbooks in advance, Davis said, adding that another 100 yearbooks are generally sold once students begin seeing them around school.
“We won’t have the hot-commodity factor,” he said. “That’s not only us. It’s going to be all the other schools as well.”
Lambert hopes that people won’t miss this issue of Patriot, which she considers one of the best, despite the fact that the year was disrupted by COVID-19.
“It (the pandemic) doesn’t dominate the book,” she said. “We did a lot before March 13.”