Yearbooks offer a window to the past to see cherished memories we made with classmates and realize how much time has passed since. 

One thing Clarisa Del Villar, a junior at Liberty High School, enjoys doing is going through her mother's old yearbooks to see how different life was before she was born.

"People think it’s a piece of paper, but it holds so many memories," she said. "You find it in your garage and realize how much has happened since those days."

As a member of her school's yearbook club, tasked with designing pages hundreds of students will flip through, Del Villar was looking forward to seeing photos from prom, spring fling and powder puff events to mark the end of the year.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to shut down and canceling activities that would have made for some colorful spreads, yearbook teams are getting creative highlighting an unusual end to the year.

NEW SPRING ACTIVITIES

Most schools in the Kern High School District had a March deadline for their yearbook, which features class photos and memories from the first half of the school year. For sports competitions and other events that take place in April and May, most schools publish a spring insert that fits inside the yearbook. 

Pages dedicated to prom, powder puff, spring fling week and other Liberty High School celebrations were quickly switched to cover the COVID-19 story, explained teacher Pete Tittl. One page featured three students — a track athlete, drum-line student and color guard student — and swim coach Marc Urmston writing a letter to the virus.

"It was difficult for them to have that canceled so we wanted to highlight how they’re coping and how it’s affecting them," Del Villar said. "I was on that page, and it was really nice to read."

Likewise, Crystal Barker, yearbook teacher from Independence High School, said spring sports coaches and students submitted photos, and those pages highlighted students' stories and how they're staying active at home. There's even a page dedicated to graduates' next steps after high school.

Other schools decided to scrap the idea of a spring insert altogether due to lack of content, uncertainty of production and on-time delivery, as was the case with South High School. But students found different ways to highlight the coronavirus in the main book.

Along with asking spring sports coaches and athletes to send photos, the group took to social media to find out what students were watching and listening to while in quarantine and how the pandemic had personally affected them, said yearbook teacher Justice Lucero.

Jostens also provided fully designed pages that highlighted the pandemic and a section where students could write down their thoughts during the closure. Those pages proved to be quite helpful since many of Lucero's students do not have access to technology or internet connectivity, making it impossible to design pages from home.

"Overall, I'm happy with what we got," said South High senior Kimberly Rodriguez. "Even though at first I was bummed out about the whole situation with not being able to get certain aspects of the school life into the yearbook ... we had to do a different thing to capture memories during this time for the high school students going through it."

North High School students "kicked it into overdrive" to make their March 23 deadline, said teacher Elizabeth Goossen, by calling every spring athlete and taking photos.

"Then students interviewed and got information on pages as quickly as they could," she added.

Due to an early deadline, the yearbook could only dedicate one page to the pandemic, with photos students took and those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization's websites, Goossen explained.

‘IT’S HISTORY’

Having to switch gears was a learning process for students, Barker admitted, but the novelty of the virus seemed to light a fire in them.

"Normally we’re winding down, and every year we kind of get burnt out," Barker said, "but it’s been a resurgence for them it seems to get it done, and it’s history."

"I’m always fond of telling students there’s a life lesson in yearbook. Everything goes wrong, but nothing’s ever gone wrong like this," echoed Tittl. "The life lesson is you have to be nimble and figure out ways to do this."

It was important for Tittl that his students persevered to complete their yearbook because of the significance it can hold. He recalled his mother's sophomore high school yearbook, with "RD + FT" written on the back — his parents' initials.

"You never know who’s going to write in your yearbook and what impact it has," he said.

Del Villar also felt she owed it to her classmates, especially seniors, to create something special for them to look back on.

"It doesn’t seem like a yearbook would mean a lot, but I love looking at pictures and recalling memories," she said. "I wouldn’t want to give them something that isn’t the best and I wasn’t proud of."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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