It was a school year like no other. For students on the yearbook staff at local high schools, it took flexibility, ingenuity and a lot of problem solving to ensure their 2021 yearbook was a reflection of the times.

Tiger ingenuity

“I think we made the most of the situation, and I’m pleased with the product,” said Northwestern High School senior yearbook editor Allison Luoma. “I think we did a good job documenting the unprecedented times.”

A team of 13 students, led by Luoma and yearbook adviser Katie Thompson, took on the task of creating Northwestern High School’s 2021 yearbook, themed “This Moment in Time.”

“We didn’t know what the whole year was going to hold,” said Thompson, a language arts teacher.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Planning for the book started in the spring of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The class had already wrapped up and submitted the last picture for their 2020 yearbook days before schools closed their doors.

Northwestern junior Abby Wennersten, left, talks about her pages with her teacher Katie Thompson during yearbook class at Northwestern High School Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Wennersten will be the editor of the yearbook next year. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwestern junior Abby Wennersten, left, talks about her pages with her teacher Katie Thompson during yearbook class at Northwestern High School Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Wennersten will be the editor of the yearbook next year. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The first hurdle: No spring sports.

“How do we represent the seniors that we had picked out to spotlight?” Thompson said, especially when no one was being allowed on school grounds.

Thompson, who lives near the softball fields in Brule, met members of the softball team at the field for posed solo shots in uniform. Action shots of the track team were taken in Iron River from a distance. Parents were asked to submit childhood photos of the athletes.

“We were still able to represent those seniors,” Thompson said.

Limited access, and a lack of traditional events, offered additional roadblocks as students returned to school in the fall of 2020. School policy limited the number of people attending sporting events — when there were sports. And for many months, the students had to work in separate cohorts that each met two days a week. Luoma said it made a big difference when high school classes expanded to four days a week and they were all together again.

More than a publishing class, the yearbook is a small business. Students had to find enough sponsors to cover the cost of printing the yearbook, despite the challenges of COVID-19.

The class felt the weight of history as they worked.

Northwestern teacher Katie Thompson, left, looks over a page for yearbook editor senior Allison Luoma during yearbook class at Northwestern High School Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwestern teacher Katie Thompson, left, looks over a page for yearbook editor senior Allison Luoma during yearbook class at Northwestern High School Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

“It’s not really a fun book; it’s a history book,” Thompson said, and the staff is tasked with documenting what this year felt like for students. “It needs to look like what the year looked like.”

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of the publication. Masks are visible in pictures. Some clubs and events are missing. Other clubs are pictured through a Google Meets screen.

“This was our best substitute, which really represents the year anyway,” Thompson said.

To make up for the lost material, the students compiled submitted photos of students and teachers at home. They shared pictures of their learning space and quarantine moments, as well as virtual dress-up day costumes. Communication and cooperation became crucial.

“A big part of it was reaching out to people and asking them to submit pictures, because we weren’t able to go out. So a lot of people pulled through and submitted pictures that we weren’t able to get. That was really helpful,” Luoma said.

They added a section on national news and trends, provided by the yearbook company, to give an overview of the historic year.

Northwestern yearbook editor senior Allison Luoma’s hand holds open the first page of the 2021 NHS yearbook during class at Northwestern High School Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwestern yearbook editor senior Allison Luoma’s hand holds open the first page of the 2021 NHS yearbook during class at Northwestern High School Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Luoma was proud of what they were able to build, a book that gives future generations a glimpse into life during a pandemic.

“If we learned anything from this school year, it should be not to take anything for granted, and to seize every opportunity because nothing is guaranteed,” she wrote in her editor’s note.

Next year's editor, junior Abby Wennersten, has her sights on the future. They are already planning for next year's yearbook, "A Blank Slate."

Paige Hanson shoots from the sidelines of the Spartans football game in April 2021 for the Superior High School yearbook. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Paige Hanson shoots from the sidelines of the Spartans football game in April 2021 for the Superior High School yearbook. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Spartan teamwork

The pandemic was one of many challenges Superior High School's yearbook staff had to face to put out their 2021 publication, "Our Life.School.Story." Traditionally, 30-40 students work on the publication. This year, there were 15. To further complicate matters, they were split into two cohorts, each meeting only two days a week. Five of the students were learning virtually from home. Only two of the students — editor MacKenzie Marthaler and Paige Hansen — had ever worked on the yearbook before.

Like the Northwestern students, they struggled with sports that didn't happen, limited seating policies for those that did, and events that didn't take place. In addition, many students didn't have school pictures taken, so there were fewer class portrait pages than in the past. They added template pages from yearbook company Jostens that encapsulated the national news and trends, a first for yearbook adviser and business teacher Christa Kalin.

The students focused on what made it into the publication, not what was lost. Every sport that took place was represented, thanks to student photographers. Like Northwestern, they turned the lens on home learning.

"It was kind of fun to do, like, quarantine in our yearbook because it gives people a glimpse into things other than school," Marthaler said. "So, like, home life and what people did in their free time and things like that."

Students shared information on shows they binge-watched, their jobs and pets.

"I don't think we've ever done, like, what kind of pets people have had before," said Dale Summerfield Jr. "It was kind of interesting to learn and put into a yearbook."

Superior High School student Paige Hanson shoots from the sidelines of the Spartans football game in April 2021 for the yearbook. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Superior High School student Paige Hanson shoots from the sidelines of the Spartans football game in April 2021 for the yearbook. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The group did more than put out a 144-page history book. They formed a team.

"I think even though we don't realize it, these are the years of high school that we'll remember," Marthaler said. "We're obviously going to want to look back at our yearbook. And it's even better to think that we were the ones that designed it."

"It's a very fun experience, getting to create something that everyone looks at," said junior Carter Pettit.

Next year may look a little different. As of now, 60 students have signed up for the yearbook class in 2021-22, including at least five of this year's staff.

"Everybody put the same time, effort and hard work and determination to get this yearbook done this year," Summerfield said.

It was a lot of work, Marthaler said, but they met the challenge.

"We came together and got through, very motivated," Pettit said.

Northwestern High School yearbook distribution was scheduled to take place this week. Spartans will receive their yearbook the last week of May.