In her final year of high school, Reyhan Kepic only drove to school for one important 8:30 a.m. class — yearbook.
The 18-year-old Gainesville High School senior spent her final year of school in Alachua County Public Schools digital academy, joining the rest of her classes from her bedroom every day.
As editor-in-chief of the school’s yearbook, Kepic led a team of 14 staffers — seven of whom attended class in-person while the other half participated online. She was tasked with reviewing page spreads, formatting text and sorting through photos taken by the staff.
At the beginning of the Fall semester, the staff had one outstanding task — documenting a year of Hyflex classes spent wearing masks and on Zoom.
“Students are going to be able to remember how it used to be through this yearbook,” Kepic said.
The yearbook’s theme this year, “Up Close and Personal,” aimed to take a deeper look into how students fared through the COVID-19 pandemic. Gainesville High School’s yearbook is just one example of schools across the world tasked with capturing student life amid COVID-19. Because of tight deadlines and COVID-19 safety restrictions, the staff needed to get creative to fill its yearbook.
The group relied heavily on portrait photos and stories that focused on student life outside of school grounds. The yearbook has a page documenting unique student hobbies during quarantine. The staff interviewed a student who worked at the children’s clothing store Justice when it went out of business and included photos a student took with her new pet ducks.
To Kepic, the yearbook will be a relic of how the students experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It's like a little time capsule,” she said. “There's a lot of COVID incorporated into it, which just shows how much it was affecting us. But we still were able to finish it.”
Claire Fisher, a 15-year-old Gainesville High School sophomore, has participated in the yearbook class virtually. Digital Academy students like Fisher are broadcasted on the whiteboard while they collaborate with in-person students via an online Walsworth Yearbooks platform.
“We've been trying to make it so that we're telling the story of people during the pandemic,” she said. “So we want to ask a lot of questions about COVID and specifically how they are hosting their events.”
Yearbook teacher Wayne Eury, 48, said each year about 600 students at GHS usually order the yearbook, which costs $80. He wished more students on campus would purchase one.
“It’s the only technology guaranteed to still work in 20 years,” Eury said. “I still have my yearbooks from middle school.”
He said his team of students became inspired after they looked at GHS’s old yearbooks, especially the 1919 copy that was made during the Spanish influenza pandemic.
“Everybody now can just take pictures with their phones. Back then, it was much harder,” Eury said. “If they could do it 100 years ago, we can do it now.”
Early in the pandemic, the yearbook staff saw a jump in donations to their Hurricane Angel program, through which businesses, parents and community members can donate money to provide a yearbook to a senior unable to purchase one for financial reasons.
Each year, six or seven books are donated through the program. But in 2020, Eury said more than 100 donated yearbooks were distributed to students.
“It really blew me away,” Eury said.
One of the assistant editors, Hailey Overstreet, a 17-year-old Gainesville High School junior, said while the goal of this year’s yearbook was to document the varied student experience during COVID-19, the staff didn’t want to harp on the negatives.
“We tried to focus the yearbook on the lifestyle of kids and what's going on in their lives despite COVID,” Overstreet said. “We wanted to get as real and raw of a story from each student as possible.”
She said it’s bizarre to look back at photos where everyone posed so close to each other.
“I go through old yearbooks, and I see photos from pep rallies,” Overstreet said. “It's bonkers. I look at photos, I see myself and I'm like, ‘Wow, I'm standing very close to that person.’”
Overstreet said the team decided to structure the yearbook by month rather than by section — a testament to how much health guidance rollout influenced student life as the pandemic continued to unfold. Jacoby Hine, a 17-year-old Gainesville High School junior on the yearbook staff, said perseverance was key to completing the yearbook.
Despite COVID-19 challenges, Hine said he is proud of the group for submitting the yearbook by the deadline in a time when students needed it most.
“There's got to be a yearbook,” Hine said. “You can't just not have a yearbook.”
Contact Alan Halaly at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlanHalaly.
Alan Halaly is a first-year journalism and Spanish major and the East Gainesville Beat Reporter. This is his second semester on staff, and he previously worked as a news assistant on the Metro desk. He's excited to use this semester to shine a spotlight on underserved communities in Gainesville.