Recruit & retain leaders

By Kari Phillips, yearbook adviser
Olentangy Orange High School, Lewis Center, Ohio

Have you heard the news? All journalism and yearbook teachers must make a concerted effort to recruit strong students to take yearbook and encourage them (once they already have them in class) to stick with it all four years.

After my first couple of years advising, I accepted the reality that students will not sign up for journalism based on the content area or my charming personality (not really) alone. Some prodding must take place or what I like to call “helping them recognize their strengths.”

High school students have a million of really cool classes to choose from nowadays, anything ranging from “Jewelry” to “Teacher Academy.” These classes were never around when I was in high school. Therefore, journalism teachers must be proactive when getting students in their classrooms and building their publication teams.

Recruitment time is not my favorite time of year, but I’ve accepted the fact that it is necessary in order to maintain a successful and evolving journalism program and yearbook publication. After ten years of advising, I’ve finally developed a proven system of recruitment that retains students for their entire high school careers. My stomach doesn’t sink as much as it used to when February rolls around because this system works.

If can save one journalism teacher from their next panic attack, I will feel like I made a difference.

• Use the middle schools to your advantage. Incoming freshmen are looking for their niche in high school. Provide a space for them before any other program gets there. Have your current staff members create a commercial for eighth graders. Younger students will look up to the older students and want to do what they do, i.e. take journalism!

• Have your editors attend your district’s eighth grade parent night. They can man a booth where they display all of the journalism publications and answer questions parents may have.

• Make your program and publication visible in other parts of the school. All the athletic teams have display cases displaying their conference and district awards. Convince your principal that the journalism program needs a display case for all its awards. Also, for greater exposure, partner with other departments. The art department’s spring arts festival was a good place to showcase our best photos.

• Make students feel special and sought after by asking your current students for recommendations of students who would do well in journalism. Then, send individualized letters to them.

• Contact your administrators or counselors to see who has taken the prerequisite Intro to Journalism course but are not currently in a publication class. Target those students with personal invitations from your editors and you.

• Have eighth grade teachers or other English teachers send lists of recommended students based on criteria you have set. Send those students personal letters.

• Do summer yearbook and journalism camps for middle school students run by your editors. Get the younger students excited and informed about journalism.

• When counselors visit the middle schools for scheduling, have two yearbook or journalism students go with them and pitch to the eighth graders to join journalism.

• If you have an Introduction to Journalism (prerequisite journalism course), have a Veteran Journalist Press Conference Day in which your current publication editors act as panelists. In a press conference format, let intro students ask editors questions about creating a yearbook and/or being an editor. For further reinforcement, the Intro students write news stories about the press conference.

• Appoint next year’s editors in the spring when the current seniors are still there to coach them on their new positions. For example, next year’s editors are in charge of the last issue of the newsmagazine from start to finish, so they are thrown to the wolves in the beginning. However, the graduating seniors are still there to catch their fall. Appointing the next group of editors is vital for success; for technical positions, such as business manager, the outgoing editor has A LOT to teach. It saves the adviser time that would be spent training the same position year after year.

• Make the editor-in-chief of yearbook a two-year commitment in which the position is called junior editor-in-chief their junior year and senior editor-in-chief their senior year. The future senior editor-in-chief is then named the spring of their sophomore year (two years out). Students like the certainty of this structure and will start planning for when the book is theirs as a senior. The junior editor-in-chief will spend that whole year modeling all the responsibilities of the senior editor-in-chief. They should be involved in all of the extra activities for editors (field trips, decision making), but it’s not “for real” yet. For our fall delivery yearbook, the junior editor-in-chief is in charge of coming in during the summer to complete the senior editor-in-chief’s yearbook.

• Start a lettering program for journalism or yearbook. The performing arts groups, like theater and choir, offer the chance to letter, so journalism should too. Use those teachers to help develop criteria for lettering. Order letters and present them at an end-of-year celebratory event.

• Provide graduation cords for students who have been involved in the program for a couple years. (Consider becoming a member of Quill & Scroll, an International Honor Society for High School Journalists.) They deserve to show off all the hard work they’ve done for journalism.

• Present end-of-the-year awards. While awards have their flaws, they help motivate students by building their confidence and reassuring them that they’re in the right place. Honor a “Yearbook Staff Member of the Year,” adding his or her name to a plaque that is prominently displayed in the school. Also, recognize everyone’s efforts with fun paper plate awards. They recognize everyone’s contributions to the team.

• Make time for fun, although somewhat less productive, activities, Food Fridays are the highlight of the week for all journalism students. Traditions like this can help retain students because they become a bright and reliable part of their week, something to look forward to.

• Make sure you have an end-of-the-year celebratory event. We have a picnic where we grill out at a local park. It’s casual, a time to pass out awards, eat and play games. This event creates a team atmosphere and gets them excited to return next year.

Excerpt from Elements magazine “How’d You Do That?: Recruit & Retain Leaders.”

Olentangy Orange High School’s yearbook can be purchased here.