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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

CHS remembers challenging year from creative yearbook

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Let’s be honest, 2020 was not the best year for a lot of people—not by a long shot. And for high school students, it was probably a year they’d rather—but won’t—forget.
COVID-19 wreaked havoc on schools, forcing teachers and students to switch to an online format they were neither familiar nor comfortable with. The virus also canceled annual festivities such as homecoming and Sadie Hawkins, and even axed grad night two years in a row. To put it into perspective, graduating seniors will not have the ubiquitous prom story to tell their children or grandchildren.
And yet, despite its bleakness, the yearbook team of Claremont High School somehow found a way to immortalize the 2020-21 school year within the 370 creative pages of their current edition—“Intertwined.”
CHS’s yearbook editor-in-chiefs, Ramah Fejleh and Brenna Bradfield, both graduating seniors, explained that the team was hesitant about putting a yearbook together this year, yet knew it had to be done by any means.
“I think there was no other choice honestly,” Brenna said. “When we became editors-in-chief, we didn’t really predict that there would be a pandemic. I think we were a little scared at first but we were like ‘you know, we’re going to make this happen, we’re going to do this.’”
Easier said than done. Over the course of the year, the team faced a difficult task trying to fill the yearbook with unique photos and content since numerous sports, clubs and activities were either canceled entirely or returned only briefly in the spring. Ramah said, however, that with the help of emails, text messages, word of mouth, and an app called Yearbook Snap, the CHS team was able to communicate that they needed student photos and stories.


“We had students send in photos [of] themselves. So if they were doing something not necessarily even at school we would still try to cover that and just get whatever we could,” Ramah said. “We didn’t have much. Some spreads were short on pictures or short on people because not as many people wanted to send things in, but whatever we got we made sure to put in and include as many people as we could.”
Brenna also explained that the staff jumped at any opportunity they saw for pictures when campus life returned, even if the class or team practice they were shooting was brief.
“If the football players even came back for a day, we had photographers out there taking pictures,” Brenna said. “We just tried to jump on everything, even over the internet like Instagram. We tried to cover just anything that happened at the school. Like ‘let’s get this in the yearbook.’”
Aside from what many students were expecting—screenshots of Zoom classes and the typical student and teacher portraits—the book covers and does well illustrating student activities and clubs in quarantine, showing how students stayed on top of schoolwork, how athletes and sports teams practiced at home, the fashions student wore at home and the food they ate, and many other fun themes.
“I was especially excited for people to see what we made. I know a lot of people just expected it to be Zoom scenes, and honestly when you look at the book you see a lot,” Ramah said.
The book also includes coverage of key historical moments throughout 2020, including the presidential election and Black Lives Matter protests.
“There’s a lot of things this year that people are going to want to remember and [that] they might forget just because we’ve been in lockdown and in a pandemic and everything,” Ramah said. “I feel like the book definitely covers all those things that happened.”
Though this yearbook feels as heavy as its predecessors, the work that went on behind the scenes this time around was different and far more digital than in previous years. Despite the obstacles of not meeting in-person, the staff remained efficient when working on pages at home and on their own schedules rather than being limited to the time they had in class.
“Usually the [yearbook] program was only set up on the school computers but now everyone just had access to designing the yearbook anytime,” Brenna said.
Using Zoom, their creativity and a new online program to design the book, the staff was able to produce one of the most unique yearbooks in CHS history.
“Our cover page, we all did that together on Zoom. I feel like we did really [well],” Ramah said. “Brenna shared her screen and we all just kind of worked on it together. I feel like that was a little more efficient than being in-person.”
But even as the staff poured hours of their time, sweat and tears into the book, they faced questions from their peers about why they were still planning to chronicle the static year.
Their response? Simply that they were doing it.
Talking with some of the students, who admitted they were skeptical about the yearbook at first, revealed that in the end, they were glad the team published a yearbook.
“I definitely did not think we were going to have a yearbook this year,” Freshman Kaili Hernandez said. “I thought it was really cool that there are pictures from outside of school that they were able to combine together and just put it in the yearbook to make it more like we had an entire year.”
“I expected it to be a lot smaller considering the [pandemic], but it’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be,” Freshman Utsab Gupta said. “It feels less like a wasted year and more like we did something, even though it feels like nothing happened. It feels more like this school year was something that happened.”
So, why did staff design a yearbook this year despite everything?
“I actually think this yearbook is, not more important than other years, but it’s just so important that this year is documented…just because it was so different,” Brenna said. “What would it be like if you just completely scrapped this year? Then it wouldn’t be a moment in time.”
Taking inspiration from the school’s 1919 yearbook and how the century ago staff was able to produce a book during the Spanish Flu epidemic, the current CHS staff rallied and published a yearbook under similar circumstances.
“Especially looking at the 1919 book, they still covered it while going through something similar to this,” Ramah said. “Looking back on it now, it’s very important just for the history of it.”
“Even through the bad things in this year, you have a really beautiful book in your hands at the end of the day to look back and be like ‘maybe it wasn’t that bad,’” Brenna said.
Students, parents and residents can purchase the 2020-21 yearbook outside the entrance of the Claremont High School library for $100 per copy. For more information, contact David Sawhill at dsawhill@cusd.claremont.edu.

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