Building The Shield

At 5 p.m. on a Wednesday after school, work is just beginning for members of the Downey High School yearbook staff.

Behind the door of Room 210, students slowly trickle into a back room, lovingly called "The Hole," and get to work. They pull up spreads on the computer to design or to clean up while teacher John Scott, who advised the yearbook until last year, stops in to mentor, checking gutters and spacing of captions and pictures. The class itself is now advised by teacher Heather Jacquemin.

The Downey yearbook, called The Shield, and members of the staff have won more than 150 awards since 1999, including being recognized as a National Scholastic Press Administration Yearbook Pacemaker Finalist five times, winning it in 2003 and 2005, and NSPA Interactive Pacemaker Finalist five times, winning it in 2001, 2003 and 2004. The 2008 edition is again nominated for the Pacemaker award; the winners will be announced later this month.

The Hole is evidence of a hard-working staff, with multicolored sticky notes adorning computer monitors with reminders about pages. There are framed photos from past yearbooks, and the hallmark testament to the yearbook, "The Ladder" — a huge to-do list of the spreads, from student life, to mug shots, to sports, to be completed in the 321-page book, with pink highlighter denoting the pages completed.

Being on the yearbook is not just working and outlining. It's also fun. Often, advisers bring in their pets during long production nights to boost morale, and music and food are on hand for the members.

Maintaining the yearbook's success requires hard work and perseverance, and plenty of long hours. The 15-member staff normally gets together from 5 to 9 p.m. weekdays in the weeks before the yearbook's April 3 deadline. The students also work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. A typical editor in chief puts in around 800 to 1,000 hours outside of school on the yearbook.

This year's editor in chief, senior Kaylin Garcia, also works on the yearbook between noon and 3 p.m. every school day because she assists during sixth period and takes the class during the last period. However, these long hours actually aren't overwhelming for Kaylin. "We always wish we had one more hour," she said.

Helping out Kaylin is Lauren Daniels, a senior who is a photographer and a page designer for The Shield. As a photographer, she estimates she spends at least 600 hours a year outside of school on yearbook work, and mentioned that both she and Kaylin had dropped extracurriculars like cheer and dance for yearbook.

"It's busy, but it's so much fun," Lauren said. "The moment you see everyone get their books, it's so rewarding."

Both girls are involved in leadership at Downey, helpful for them because it allows them to plan for the important moments of the school year and to capture those moments in the yearbook.

The girls are in sync with each other, often finishing each other's thoughts while working side by side in The Hole.

Between arranging, proofreading and conferring, Kaylin and Lauren thought back to when they decided to enroll in yearbook, in sophomore or junior year, respectively.

"You don't really know how much work it is" until you're doing it, Kaylin said.

She told an anecdote about last year's editor, Sarah Harden, calling her a few weeks ago and warning her of the impending panic attack to come because of the stress of the due date.

Still, the yearbook is a product of love and pride for the girls, and for everyone on the Shield staff.

"It's kind of like getting a product done and taking care of all of the problems that impede the production," Scott said. "It's a book by kids for kids. I don't do the book, I open doors, but when the finger presses the shutter button, it's theirs, not mine."

Kaylin and Lauren look to the future of the yearbook, hoping the support and enrollment of the yearbook, which has always been a big deal at Downey High School, will continue.

"I don't think we'll have this opportunity in the next few years (at college)," Lauren said. "There's so much that we can use here, and it's at our fingertips, but we won't next year."

"I think what I'll miss the most is sitting in here," Kaylin concluded with a smile.

Victoria Pardini is a senior at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.