When "Magic Treehouse" author Mary Pope Osborne visited Kayleigh Stalter's Lynbrook elementary school, her mom snapped a photograph of the third-grader with the author. Mary Beth Stalter never figured that shot would be printed in Kayleigh's fifth grade school yearbook two years later.
And frankly, it wouldn't have appeared if the Marion Street Elementary School hadn't opted to use a company called TreeRing, which allows schools to build their yearbooks online and gives each student two pages of personal photos commemorating their own school experiences.
Parents can create the pages themselves and surprise their kids, or work with their children to choose which photos to represent their early school years. Some parents add photos that have nothing to do with academia -- family trips, travel basketball teams, communions. Some add photos not just from fifth grade, but from kindergarten through elementary school. The two custom pages appear only in that student's copy of the yearbook.
Corey Guglielmo's daughter, Felicia, also a 2013 graduate of Marion Street Elementary, was thrilled when she received her yearbook. "The first things she went to was her pages," Guglielmo says.
The school yearbook has evolved, and it is still changing. It used to be an enterprise run by small committees choosing from limited, tactile photographs that left most students relegated to a portrait picture and maybe a spot in a team or club snapshot. "The yearbook, over the years, became a popularity contest," says Gregory Durdock, president and chief executive of a new Connecticut-based company called Odyssey Interactive.
With the advancement of online technology through companies such as TreeRing, Jostens, Shutterfly, Lifetouch and Walsworth, schools became able to "tag" students in photos and count to ensure more students appeared more often on yearbook pages.
"A very popular option is to put an individual's photograph on the actual cover of the book," says Eric Miller, director of yearbook production at the Elmont-based Irvin Simon Photographers & Yearbooks. The company can also add, for instance, the school soccer team logo or icon from another club the child might be part of on his or her cover.
Technology has also allowed wider participation, with students and parents able to upload photos for consideration in the general yearbook. It allows collaboration on pages, greater choices of typeface, background and art.
"This is great because it allows yearbook club members to go home and work on it at home," says Nicole Mamzellis, yearbook adviser at Kings Park High School, which uses Walsworth.com to produce its $130 yearbook.
Durdock aims to push the envelope even further -- to eliminate the physical high schoolbook entirely and to publish yearbooks on interactive CDs, DVDS or thumb drives that allow audio and video content as well as individualized entries that will appear to everyone. "People are coming to us because the paper yearbook is getting much too expensive, $85 or more," Durdock says.
Money does talk. "The original appeal for us to switch to TreeRing was that we probably saved nine dollars per book on the price," says PTA Yearbook co-chair Kristine Glanzer, bringing in the 56-page, softcover, elementary school yearbooks for less than $20 each. Because the PTA at Marion Street gives each student a yearbook as a gift, price is key.
A bonus was that, for the yearbook committee, the software was easy to follow, Glanzer says. The school photographer gave Glanzer a CD with all the individual students' school portraits on it, and Glanzer was able to smoothly upload that to a template. "One of the things I liked about TreeRing is they had a lot of online help," including tutorials you could watch again and again, Glanzer says.
At first, parents were confused by the custom pages. But between friends helping friends -- and kids helping their parents -- with the technology, "it wasn't as bad as they worried," Glanzer says.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, says Christina Kile, who worked on the West School's yearbook in Long Beach. "No online anything is perfect," she says. "Whenever there was an issue, they worked hand in hand with you to figure it out."
Last year, the West School was closed after superstorm Sandy, and Kile says she thinks the school wouldn't have had a yearbook at all if they hadn't been producing it online. The PTA could do everything remotely: "You didn't need anything at the school."