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Yearbook Program Trades Obscurity for Top Awards : Ojai: The advertising budget has jumped from $160 to $4,000, allowing for the purchase of cameras, computers and darkroom equipment.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two years ago, when English teacher Craig Andrews took over the yearbook staff at Nordhoff High School, the group had no money, no darkroom, no computer and only one camera, a broken Pentax.

Only 10 students even bothered to sign up for the yearbook class.

Now, the Ojai school’s yearbook staff has two Macintosh computers, a darkroom and three working cameras.

And so many students signed up for the yearbook course this fall that Andrews had to turn away more than 10 students after limiting the class size to 25.

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Earlier this month, Nordhoff learned that its flashy 1992-93 yearbook received a national award in a contest that drew more than 2,000 entries nationwide.

The New York-based American Scholastic Press Assn., considered by yearbook publishers as one of the toughest critics in the business, gave the Nordhoff publication first place in art and perfect ratings in design, photography and organization.

“I just wanted to rebuild the program, something that would be not just a good learning tool for the kids but also a great public relations tool for the district,” Andrews said.

And the secret to the yearbook program’s new-found success, he said, was money.

As soon as Andrews took over the program, he required every student on staff to sell at least $40 in advertisements each month. The smallest ads cost $25 each.

The tactic worked.

Since 1991, the yearbook’s advertising budget has increased from $160 to $4,000, allowing the staff to buy cameras, computers and darkroom equipment.

And with the book itself, Andrews decided to take chances--letting students take nearly all the photographs, design the pages and write the text.

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“They love that ownership of being in charge of their own project,” he said. “I just act as cheerleader.”

One of the most striking differences between Nordhoff’s award-winning volume and typical high school yearbooks is the cover.

Instead of the usual solid-color vinyl found on many yearbooks, the Nordhoff publication’s cover is a glossy picture of dozens of students who are holding Christmas tree lights that resemble florescent-colored confetti because the photo was taken with a timed exposure. “It was really different,” said sophomore Sara Brown, who along with senior Alena Dron, 17, is co-editor of the 1993-94 yearbook. The editors of last year’s book--Veronica Velasquez and Mishauno Woggon--both have graduated.

Although 1992-93 yearbook staff members received many compliments on the book cover, they heard complaints about some of their other changes, Brown said.

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Some students, for instance, grumbled that the 1992-93 yearbook didn’t have enough pictures.

Instead of cramming their volume with page after page containing nothing but tiny photos, the Nordhoff staff focused on taking a smaller number of professional-quality pictures that they laid out creatively.

“One photo with strong content says a lot more than 20 photos that are just head shots,” Andrews said.

But in their enthusiasm to get good candid shots of students playing sports, going on field trips or just goofing off, the yearbook staff overlooked a couple of things.

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The American Scholastic Press Assn. lowered Nordhoff’s overall grade for devoting too little attention to academic endeavors and for lacking photos of Nordhoff teachers and support staff.

Alena said this year’s staff plans to avoid making the same mistakes.

Andrews said he isn’t sure Nordhoff will be able to win another award for this year’s yearbook.

For one thing, Steve Harrison, 18, who drew the illustrations that earned best art award for the 1992-93 book, graduated last year.

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“There’s not going to be that kind of talent going through a school every year,” Andrews said.

But he said the most important part of yearbook class is it teaches students skills they otherwise may not learn in school.

“This is the only program on this campus where students are running a $27,000- to $28,000-a-year business,” he said, referring to the cost of producing the 730 books that were sold last year for $36 each.

“Nothing else on campus gives them this kind of tangible result,” Andrews said. “They are learning how to manage people. They are learning how to sell.” But Andrews and school officials emphasized that they produce the yearbook with a larger audience in mind than Nordhoff’s 1,000 students.

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“These yearbooks go in doctors’ offices,” Assistant Principal Susana Arce said. “They get out in the community.”

But students said the yearbook is less a public-relations tool than a visual record of their teen-age years that they plan to keep forever.

“It’s one of those things where you’re running out of the house, like in a fire, and what do you get? . . . You grab your yearbook,” Alena said.


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