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HILLSVILLE — The Cavalier Classic staff had designs on producing a quality yearbook and earned themselves a state championship as a result.
Shannon Dalton, their understandably proud teacher at Carroll County High School, called all students involved in yearbook together to celebrate the accomplishment last Thursday, under the pretense of getting a group photo.
Then teachers revealed the Virginia High School League Trophy Class Award, presenting it first to this year's editors, Wendy Burcham and Lauren Roper.
Last year's editors, Holly Hurst and Patricia Reed, received the news at their respective colleges via calls from Dalton.
"All the drama, pain and suffering… this makes it worth it," Reed said over the speaker from James Madison University, where she's an arts major leaning towards graphic design. "That's so crazy. I just can't believe it. I need to call my mom!"
Her time on the yearbook pointed Reed toward her college studies and sharpened her skills, she said. It helped her understand what people enjoy looking at and how a viewer's eye takes in the page.
Dalton said both of the previous editors have gone on to yearbook-related lives. Hurst is at Emory & Henry, where she's enrolled in communication studies.
"If you have a trophy class, you're pretty much in the top 20 for VHSL academics," Dalton said, explaining the reason for the excitement.
Carroll earned top honors in Southwest Virginia, doing better than Abingdon's first place.
These experiences may help others, like current co-editor Evan Nester, with their post-high school decisions, too.
He hopes to go to Liberty University on a yearbook scholarship.
Nester created two pages of layout for his first year on the staff, and he feels yearbook is essential to preserving those school memories.
"We went to one of the conferences and they said, 'If it's not in the yearbook, then where is it?' and I fully agree," he said. "We kind of keep the history of the year."
Improving the student publications has been a process that started with acquiring better technology and professional-grade software and seeking outside evaluation of the finished product.
"We've had four books evaluated, we've had two second [places], one first — this is our first trophy," Dalton said while two editors high-fived.
Student publishing has evolved quickly in the last decade with advanced technology becoming available in schools, Dalton said. No more mocking up pages and pasting on elements by hand, for example.
"I came in and said, 'I'm sorry, we can't live like this if I'm going to do this job,'" she said.
Publishing consultant Steve Kent has been a big help in modernizing the yearbook.
"I had a feeling this book would do well," he said. "It does vindicate them for all their hours."
Students have attended conferences in Richmond, Washington D.C. and Roanoke, and they've learned about layout, dominant photos, writing meaningful captions, adding graphic elements, fonts and more.
Staff has the challenge of making universal school experiences vibrant and engaging on the page, Dalton said. The layouts need to be pleasing to the eye and provide memories for many years to come.
Instead of blocky, stodgy pages, the staff polished the layouts to make them shine.
Sports pages, like tennis, got a big, action-oriented photo of a player swinging at the ball.
It looks more organic because Roper took the time to cut the background away from the racket and the rest of the page is interspersed with smaller photos of players and their quotes.
"Roper cut out each individual string" on the racket, noted Burcham about the picture — a lot of detail-oriented work in the photo editing software Photoshop, in other words.
"It was really frustrating," Roper said. "His ear could have been messed up until you got it on the page, then you could see it was like an elf ear."
Team photos and box scores moved to another place in the yearbook to free up space.
The end product gives the yearbook a magazine-like look.
Students followed guidelines, like trying to get 25 students in photos on facing pages, with dime sized faces as to be recognizable.
"Things like homecoming are really hard to cover without running into the posed picture world," Dalton said.
Staff also tightened up senior portraits, added more colors and accent fonts to make the pages pop.
With a goal of getting each of the school's 800-plus students in the yearbook three times — their portraits plus two other more casual shots — the staff have to be resourceful and watch their deadlines to get it all in, said juniors Candace Hall, Allison Mitchell and Amber Swinney.
Most students don't take part in extracurricular activities — they just go to class, said Swinney.
They stick the names of the people in their photos on the wall to keep track of what material they have, to make sure they get everybody, not just the jocks, Mitchell said.
You can interview some students and get their opinions, but sometimes they don't want to talk, Hall noted. Then, you can try to get others in pictures in their social studies or science classes.
"The master schedule is our best friend in here to find out where everyone's at," Hall said.
They also have to visit clubs and take photos.
New this year is the effort to get photos from the students, of them participating in their favorite activities outside school, like clogging, geotracking, dance or gymnastics.
Another idea to improve the product involves publishing the hardbound yearbook and then printing an insert for spring activities, Dalton said. That means students will be able to get their books in time for their friends' signatures at the end of the year, but not miss out on things like the prom and spring sports.
This award sets the bar high for this year's staff, Roper said.
"I'm motivated, I'm excited," she said. "This book is probably going to be better than last year — that's my goal."