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How Do You Document A Remote School Year? These Yearbook Editors Learned On The Job

ECF Yearbook cover 2021
Courtesy of Ted Barton and ECF
The editors of the Early College of Forsyth yearbook had to figure out how to fill the 99 pages under this cover for the 2021 edition with images of a school year that was mostly remote.

Back in March of 2020, the co-editors of the yearbook at the Early College of Forsyth thought they might have their work cut out for them this year. And boy were they right.

By the time August came around, the high school seniors learned many of the events they normally memorialized weren’t going to happen. But, to their surprise, more students than ever wanted a copy of the 2021 edition.

Yearbook Ellie.png
Courtesy of Ellie McCutchen
Senior class president, and yearbook co-editor Ellie McCutchen plans to attend UNC-Charlotte as a Levine Scholar this fall.

Yearbook co-editor, and senior class president, Ellie McCutchen lists just a few of the events that didn't take place.

“Senior prank didn’t happen; our winter dance didn’t happen,” McCutchen says. “We didn’t go to Scarowinds. Just — things didn’t happen.”

Everything was put online, held over Zoom. And that’s a bit of a problem when you need photographs for nearly 100 pages.

To fill the void, the team asked students to send them photos. They got a lot that way. And McCutchen says they even requested some they saw on social media.

Yearbook Andrew.png
Courtesy of Andrew Plattel
Yearbook co-editor and senior, Andrew Plattel on a hike. Plattel plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall.

“ I would really look up people’s Instagrams and would find a photo and then I would send that photo to them and say, ‘Hello I’m Ellie, I’m in the yearbook. Can I use this photo?’ And most of the time they would respond and be like, ‘Sure.’”

Then came December, and school picture day. With remote learning, though, it was optional, and many students didn’t show up to get their pictures taken.

“I found that about 19.5% of our school did not take a picture,” yearbook co-editor and senior Andrew Plattel says.

Plattel says they had to use old yearbook photos for some students, or anything they could find.

“We have two people who ... didn’t have a picture last year either. And so we had to ask them to send us a picture in front of a blank wall,” Plattel says. “And one of them ended up really zoomed in on the face and not really fitting in with the 'shoulder-up' portrait style.”

For a lot of the younger students, especially freshman, they couldn't find any kind of picture to use.

Then, McCutchen had an idea. And yearbook teacher Ted Barton encouraged it: To make all those missing pictures look like empty tiles from a Zoom class — like when someone leaves their video off, the mute button on, and just their name shows across the bottom in white text.

“I think it makes the best of the situation,” McCutchen says. “It’d be weird just to have a blank square, so might as well put something in it to make it a little comical.”

More than just creating a snapshot, co-editors McCutchen and Plattel wrestled with the bigger picture. How to portray such an awful year.

“Our year was Zoom and we didn’t want our book to be, like, that depressing,” McCutchen says. “So we were like, 'Let’s take a more journalistic approach and try to dive more into our student body away from school.'”

Yearbook ECF Pets.png
Courtesy of Ellie McCutchen
To document student life in a year that was mostly remote, the yearbook team created magazine-style spreads on lives outside of class. The pet spread graces pages 56 and 57.

Yearbook Cooking.png
Courtesy of Ted Barton and ECF
A spread on pandemic cooking and baking features recipes from students, and personal stories behind the dishes.

So, there’s a spread on pandemic cooking and baking, a trend that got so hip there was a national flour shortage. Student recipes are included.

Another focused on students who worked a job and went to school, and how that affected them during the pandemic.

Household friends — the fluffy kind — got a centerfold. Pages 56 and 57 are full of dogs, cats, pet selfies, and even a chicken.

That may have had something to do with McCutchen’s interrupting companion at home.

“My dog will bark exactly when I unmute myself to say something or to present...” McCutuchen says. “They’ve kind of become our new classmates in a way. Which has been interesting to say the least.”

Plattel agrees. Sometimes his dogs even scratched at the door, just waiting to jump on him when Zoom class was over.

“I feel like a lot of us, after we get off of a Zoom call, we all slam our laptops shut and then just go lay with our dog or like our cat or something.”

In the weeks leading up to the deadline in April, the yearbook editors had a lot of late nights.

McCutchen spent evening after evening at the kitchen table, with all the yearbooks she’d worked on laid out for inspiration.

Plattel’s setup was slightly cozier.

“I actually just worked on it while I was laying in bed at night,” Plattel said. “I would just sit up in bed, lean against the wall, maybe just one light on in my room.”

Teacher Ted Barton says he's proud of his students for the yearbook they put together against the odds.

“They’ve become these practical, resilient, intelligent people. And, ingenious,” he says.

This week, they’re giving out the yearbooks at graduation rehearsal. And after a year apart, at least some of the seniors will get to sign each other’s yearbooks in person.

Cole del Charco is WUNC’s morning reporter. He’s worked for WUNC since 2019.
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