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High school yearbook staff shifts from prom to pandemic

By DAN GUNDERSON Minnesota Public Radio News

MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — When spring break started back in early March, the Moorhead High School yearbook staff was preparing to document a hectic spring of sports, concerts, prom and graduation. But COVID-19 canceled all those plans.

Now, the staff members of the Cho Kio are documenting a pandemic.

“We have more of a focus, I would say, on current events, how it’s impacting the community, not just the students at the high school,” said teacher and yearbook adviser Denetre Stetz.

Because students aren’t focusing on typical high school moments, Stetz told Minnesota Public Radio News, the staff’s yearbook experience this year is more like real journalism than usual.

“Kids are collecting pictures of people putting hearts in their windows, and some kids are sending us pictures of their work and the different signage you see now at the places where they’re working: ‘Stay 6 feet apart. You can’t take more than one of this item.’ It’s really kind of how our society has changed right now because of shelter in place and social distancing and all these other new words that we’re learning and using all the time now,” said Stetz.

That shift is already making its way onto the pages of the yearbook. Instead of putting together pages that highlight spring sports, Emmie Fierstine, an 11th-grade staffer, is working on pages that highlight ways students are training for sports and staying in shape at home. But it’s been a challenge.

“The hardest thing is finding a diverse group of people to work with, and get pictures from everybody,” Fierstine said.

Fierstine and her fellow staffers said they’re missing face-to-face conversation, and are finding it’s not always easy to collect and verify information over social media.

“It’s harder to reach out to people when it’s online, because not everybody is friends with everybody,” she said.

Normally, they’d be finding people in hallways and classrooms.

“If we really needed information, we were able to run out of class and go find a friend really quick,” said 10th-grade staffer Gail Gross. “But now, everything is over social media, so you have to find someone, just to get in touch with them about something.”

Senior McKenzie McConnell said she’s sad about missing prom and graduation, but the weeks of staying home have given her more time for introspection about the future.

“I made a senior page with one of my friends,” she said. “We documented where everyone’s going to college and what they’re doing.”

Like many students this year, she put on the fancy dress she’d planned to wear to prom and took pictures, so while there isn’t a traditional prom, there’s still a memory.

For senior and yearbook editor Olivia Jenkins, there’s a significant sense of loss at not being able to cover the spring sports she planned to play, and the graduation she’s anticipated for 12 years.

“I just feel like I’m losing a big part of what people say are the most important years of our lives — and I’m never going to get this time back again,” she said. “With graduation, I just really was looking forward to getting my diploma and walking across the stage.”

But there’s also a realization she’s documenting an important moment in history, work she’ll look back on with pride.

“I think it will be kind of bittersweet, because my high school experience is over, and it wasn’t really the way that I expected,” she said.

Stetz said she feels that disappointment her senior staffers are experiencing.

“They are grieving those experiences that they spent the last four years of high school looking forward to,” she said.

But this year’s staff, she said, can take pride in the fact the book they’re creating is likely to be pored over by more students and families than usual. Yearbook orders are higher than normal, as families recognize the pages of this yearbook will hold unexpected but unforgettable memories.

“They are also doing a lot of really amazing, cool things right now that we’re trying to put in the book that they can remember later on,” Stetz said. “They didn’t have a traditional prom, but they did get to bond more with their friends in different ways, a lot of people are spending more time with their family, so there are things that they’re doing that I think will still be good memories for them later on.”