Yearbooks still significant for students, producers in Chatham

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/12/19

PITTSBORO — Growing up, Cheynie Wray would look at her parents’ yearbooks. One time with her father, she said, he showed her pictures of the girls he had crushes on.

Birdie Romatzick looks …

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Yearbooks still significant for students, producers in Chatham

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PITTSBORO — Growing up, Cheynie Wray would look at her parents’ yearbooks. One time with her father, she said, he showed her pictures of the girls he had crushes on.

Birdie Romatzick looks back at yearbooks from 10 years ago to see what life was like.

Wray and Romatzick, seniors at Woods Charter School in Pittsboro, are among the students in Chatham County that work on the school’s annual catalogs of history, documents that show what happened and who was there in each school year.

But wait. Doesn’t social media do that too?

These students have found a purpose for the yearbook beyond just capturing pictures and moments that are easily found on social media these days — more than 40 billion photos and videos have been shared on Instagram since its creation — and it’s more than just getting likes and comments.

It’s about establishing a record of life that will last for generations.

Growing while capturing history

Emily Tracy, a senior at Woods Charter and one of the main editors along with Wray, said the purpose of a yearbook extends beyond social media’s capabilities.

“I think the yearbook is more of celebrating the school as a community,” she said. “It’s a way to remember our class and what they were like as opposed to just pictures.”

Romatzick, the business editor for Woods Charter’s book, said she has a stack of yearbooks in her closet from when she first attended the school.

“It’s more of a concrete way to take a snapshot of everything that happened in the school year and everything that came here and all of the events we had,” she said.

Tracy said she found the yearbook to also be an artistic outlet. Members of the design team will pick page backgrounds and work on layouts, making sure pictures fit well and any quotes are arranged just right. Teresa Klein, the yearbook advisor and art teacher at Woods Charter, said the yearbook serves as a teaching tool because of that.

“Particularly by being so participatory, they really have evolved in terms of their design capabilities and using Photoshop and their journalistic capabilities,” Klein said. “It’s still valuable to us as teachers.”

Wray found working on the yearbook in her first couple years to be a growing experience. A four-year veteran now, she would walk around and take pictures of people and ask them questions about themselves.

“I’ve learned a lot about communicating with people,” she said. “I think I would have used to call myself a shy person, but...I feel like I’ve grown a lot from having the opportunity to put myself forward.”

Tracy held a meeting this year with all of the seniors from Woods Charter to discuss superlatives, the assigning of “most likely to” descriptors to each member of the class. She commanded a room with more than 40 of her peers in it, something she deemed unlikely not too long ago.

“It was hard to corral people into giving ideas and being quiet and all that,” she said. “It helps me with my confidence and interacting with other people.”

Jessica Kimrey, the yearbook advisor at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, said several of her students have taken advantage of the different creative opportunity that yearbooks provide.

“It’s just a different outlet beyond your traditional art classes or chorus or things like that,” she said, “for a kid who isn’t a drawer or painter but can manipulate something on the computer beautifully.”

Additionally, according to Romatzick, it’s a project that unites students over a common goal.

“It’s become, this year especially, a labor of love for us,” she said. “Being able to look at the yearbooks and have a sense of pride in that is also a big part of it. It’s almost like looking at a family album.”

Still holding a place

While national yearbook sales numbers are hard to find, there is anecdotal evidence that the volumes are declining in popularity across the country, including in North Carolina.

Last week, according to The Daily Reflector in Greenville, East Carolina University announced it would be discontinuing its annual yearbook in favor of a graduation magazine. John Harvey, director of ECU Student Media, told the Reflector that “really since Facebook, universities have moved away from yearbooks, and the students have moved away from yearbooks.”

But local yearbook advisors say the trend isn’t necessarily reflected in their schools.

Kimrey said the school has ordered a record number of yearbooks this year because of their popularity. She said the school completely sold out last year and had to turn away students on the final day. So this year, they ordered 210 copies.

“I think interest has definitely increased,” Kimrey said. “I think that’s a credit to my staff. They work very had telling people about the work they’re doing, that, ‘Here’s this piece of your high school career that you’re going to want.’”

Klein said that students across the kindergarten through 12th grade spectrum at Woods Charter are investing in yearbooks. She thought the rise of social media would dampen numbers, but has been surprised at what’s actually happened.

“We sell to three-quarters of the school at least,” she said. “It’s interesting to me how many elementary kids want them. For seniors, it’s extremely important.”

Both Jordan-Matthews and Woods Charter’s staffs attempt a personal touch on their yearbooks, particularly for the seniors. Kimrey said her staff has spent the last week “tagging pictures” to make sure every student gets in at least once. The focus is more on the graduating 12th graders, but the hope is to feature “every kid from every walk of life.” At Woods Charter, each senior has a part of a page with their picture and a short question-and-answer.

Klein said she feels the books are a good representation of the culture of the school.

“It’s kind,” she said. “I really feel that they do their best to share that culture in the yearbook. I think that we’re aware that, while it’s not a legal document, it’s a historical one, and they want to be well-represented from that standpoint.”

In the spotlight

Yearbooks have found themselves in the national spotlight in recent months due to controversy. Then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was grilled on Capitol Hill over some items in his high school yearbook, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his medical school yearbook contained some photos in which he was wearing a costume he deemed “clearly racist and offensive.”

Aware of the lasting impact yearbooks can have on individuals, Wray said she asked her fellow seniors at Woods Charter to think seriously about their senior quote — would they be happy with it in 50 years?

After all, she said, that’s what yearbooks are for.

“They’re truly great records of the past,” Wray said. “I love looking through my parents’ yearbooks and seeing how much things have changed.”

Kimrey was the yearbook editor at Jordan-Matthews during her senior year of high school, so being able to make her mark again as an advisor has been special to her.

“I’m proud that for generations to come that somebody’s going to walk into those libraries and see those books and I’m going to have a piece of that,” she said. “I think it’s what makes J-M special, things like yearbook.”

She added that her staff, led by seniors Kelsey Justice and Mackenzie Clark, has been working hard to complete this year’s edition. The slogan, by the way, is “Snapchats won’t last forever, but your yearbooks will.”

“Social media comes and goes, but you’ll always have those yearbooks on your shelf,” Kimrey said.

It’s that lasting quality that attracts Romatzick.

“That’s something that I’m looking forward to, when I have kids, showing them my yearbooks and have them be able to get a little snapshot of the essence of the kind of person I was,” she said.


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