Whither the high school yearbook in a digital age?

By Eric Erickson
News and analysis

When was the last time you looked at your high school yearbook?

How much did you pay for your yearbook in … ? (Feel free to insert year and adjust for inflation!)

High school traditions have evolved over time as society and technology continue to change. But the high school yearbook has endured. The students, styles, activities and themes are different from year to year and generation to generation, but photos in a hardcover book encapsulate high school memories in a way that social media can’t.

At least that’s what many Como Park High School students said when informed that there wouldn’t be a yearbook for the class of 2023.

Analyzing Como’s operating budget for the current school year, Principal Kirk Morris noticed the yearbook was operating as an annual $9,500 loss. This was caused by a combination of low yearbook sales and a large upfront cost to Jostens for publication.

English teacher Suzie Myhre ran a yearbook class at Como for three years with students producing content and organizing layout. Remarkably, a yearbook was even created during the distance learning pandemic school year of 2020-2021, although fewer than 70 students purchased one.

An initial decision

When Myhre stepped down as yearbook advisor last spring and the position was unfilled when this year’s teaching schedule came out, Morris considered cutting the yearbook from the budget. When research revealed only 100 Como students (out of roughly 1,100) purchased a yearbook in 2022, he made the call to strike a yearbook from the budget.

If you’re wondering why kids aren’t buying yearbooks, it’s an economic choice. At $70 a book, few students and their families can justify the expense.

Yet some students value the tradition, they enjoy knowing there’s documentation of their experiences and some are willing to pay the price for a book during their senior year.

“I wouldn’t buy one now as a junior,” said Amorie Northington. “But I don’t want them to stop yearbook because I want to get one when I’m a senior with everyone in it from my graduating class.”

Asked if she and her friends would accept a less expensive “digital yearbook” that could be clicked with a link, Northington and her classmates laughed, “No! That wouldn’t be the same and it wouldn’t be special. You got to have a real book.”

Junior student Luke Glad agreed that while he hasn’t ever purchased a yearbook and doesn’t plan to this year, he wants the option as a senior, “I think it’s mostly seniors who want to buy them, which makes sense, because you want to remember everyone you went to school with and have all those pictures and memories in one place.”

For this year’s seniors and their families who planned on making a yearbook purchase, news of Principal Morris’ budget cut caused an emotional response. Concerned parents took their reactions to today’s public squares — social media sites and neighborhood group chats on the Nextdoor app where they shared frustrations. Comments, questions and suggestions flourished.

Meanwhile, a few parents contacted Morris directly, which led him to investigate new ideas for Como’s yearbook. Other St. Paul Public Schools have also struggled to sell yearbooks, including one that has gone to a paperback book. In consultation with district leaders, Morris pursued a plan.

“Community feedback is important and guides how we work together to serve our students and families,” Morris said.

New life for yearbook

Morris reopened the request for a faculty yearbook advisor and began a search for new vendors with less expensive production costs. Special Education teacher Jonah Fields and new math teacher Sandy Ouverson said they’d help students interested in yearbook work. Logistical details are still fluid, but there’s a plan.

Senior Dawn Weins is already taking photos for the yearbook at school events.

“I’m glad we’re still going to have a yearbook. I can’t imagine graduating without having one,” Weins said. “I feel like long-term memories are captured better in a book than looking at a phone or on a screen. The yearbook gives context. Plus, people can sign it and have memories in writing.”

From a generation of students who spend hours scrolling through photos on screens every day, it’s refreshing to hear that a hardcover picture book is appreciated.

The sustainability and operating cost of yearbooks may continue to challenge school budgets. The issue of accessibility for all students will continue to raise questions.

But like the previous 43 years at Como Park High School, there will be a yearbook of memories available for purchase. 

Eric Erickson is a social studies at Como Park High School and a Bugle freelancer.

1 Response

  1. Karen Page

    TL;DR — Como Park says they are going to produce a yearbook, but there’s no info on how, with whom, or any other useful information.

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