Owatonna Yearbook class 2020-21

From left to right, Owatonna students Natalie Morrow, Alex Huemoeller, Lindsay Bangs and Jenna Spatenka work on this year’s yearbook. (Photo courtesy of Dan Leer)

This past year will definitely mark a chapter in future history books. The unprecedented academic year will be a major highlight in this year’s yearbook as students are working hard to make the annual book special despite the circumstances.

In a year scored with canceled events, postponed activities and limited opportunities for group gatherings, area high school students are highlighting the positives as school wraps up and the much anticipated yearbook is distributed.

Owatonna High School’s yearbook is offered as a year-long class. Students attended class twice a week during hybrid learning, and now students are back in the building and in class four days a week. The change is welcomed as students have more time to access school servers and photo opportunities.

Last fall when Owatonna schools went into a targeted distance learning period, the yearbook class was wrapping up the fall spread complete with fall sports and homecoming activities. At that point winter sports had not started.

“It was definitely not ideal, trying to tell the story of the school when you're not in school, but (the students) did have access to the yearbook pages online,” said Dan Leer, Owatonna yearbook advisor.

This year is the first time in many years that Faribault High School is offering yearbook as a class, according to yearbook advisor Chelsea Fedora. The change was a byproduct of the high school’s switch to a seven-period day.

“It’s a good thing it’s a class otherwise I don't know if we would have gotten anything done” Fedora said.

Faribault’s yearbook program is also online, so while in theory students could work on the book from home, most of the work was completed in class. Each student is assigned a topic and required to create a page on that topic, but finding some photo opportunities proved to be difficult.

Other area schools have expressed similar challenges, especially when it comes to taking large group photos, including student clubs with over 100 members such as Owatonna's National Honor Society.

Waseca High School's yearbook staff has run into similar issues with finding student life and fan photos. When students returned to the building in January, Waseca yearbook advisor Donna Hodgkins made sure to quickly organize a group photo day just in case students were forced back into distance learning. Hodgkins says the yearbook class relied more on question-and-answer sections to capture this year’s important moments and mindsets.

During a targeted distance learning period, Waseca yearbook staff reviewed design principles, color theory and typography. Student groups would video call each other to brainstorm and determine their page design while other students collected answers for the book’s question-and-answer section.

“When we did come back together in January, we were way more productive, plus you had everybody (together) and everybody was brainstorming together and that is when we actually determined our theme and our cover,” Hodgkins said.

The Waseca yearbook is distributed in the fall, so students should expect their yearbook at the same time as always. Other schools have pushed their deadlines and distribution dates back. Normally the Faribault team would have their book completed by now, but they will be working on it through the end of the academic year. They hope to include a few photos of the year’s remaining events and activities. Distribution will be this summer rather than the last full week of school.

The Owatonna staff has historically distributed in the spring, but has moved to a fall distribution, effectively pushing back their deadline. Even with this academic year looking different than others, Leer said the group is still trying to create a special product for students.

“There's a lot that is the same. We've done a pretty good job, especially covering athletics and those types of things. We've been able to get adequate numbers of photos for those events which has been great,” Leer said.

Still the biggest challenge seems to be collecting candid and academic photos, Leer said, adding that there hasn’t been many opportunity to socialize this year.

“The bottom line is that the biggest story of this year is the pandemic and a lot of our pictures will have people with masks and that's just our reality this year, and even though that's not ideal that hides a lot of personality in photos, it's just the nature of our beast right now,” Leer said.

During emergency distance learning in the spring 2020, the Owatonna yearbook class had already finished the majority of the 2019-20 yearbook for the bound edition. From there students worked on a nearly 20-page spring supplement to be inserted into the yearbook. Due to the pandemic, spring sports were canceled and thus the class had to figure out how to creatively fill the pages.

“Much of the story that we told in the spring was kind of told through the eyes of kids at home so we had to rely on a lot of submitted photos, a kind of a refocus,” Leer said. “The spring supplement it's dominated by spring sports and there were no spring sports. So that was challenging.”

Leer praises his students' resilience, even with the unpleasant restrictions students are trying to make the most of the year. Fedora echoes that sentiment, adding that she has a great group of students who are truly interested in creating an accurate historical viewpoint of the year.

“We're trying really hard to point out the positives with all of this craziness because it’s the best we can do when everything is so difficult,” Fedora said.

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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