The loss of a student or teacher is one of the most difficult events a yearbook advisor will ever cover.
The death of a student or teacher often happens without warning and can generate dozens of emotions—for you, for those on your yearbook team, and for those in your school. To cover such an event, you need to try your best to step back, evaluate what’s happened in the past, and determine what you think the best course of action is. Though difficult, taking these steps will help you plan your coverage and set expectations for your community as to what will end up in print.
Where to Begin
You’ll want to first conduct some research to see if your school has been confronted with this type of tragedy in the past. If you have an editorial policy in place for these types of events, you have a place to start the process. There may be policies or precedents in place that can help shape your coverage and audience’s expectations.
You also need to decide who is going to create and edit the page. Even if your yearbook committee is student-driven, you may want an adult to take the lead. If your students are passionate about being involved, be prepared to give them the steady support they need.
The next thing you need to do is create a plan and reach out to your school administration. Advise them of what you’re doing, what process you’ll be following, and what role you’d like them to play. (In times like this, it’s good to ask your administration to pay particularly close attention to these pages when reviewing the yearbook.)
Reach Out to the Family
Before you design the page, you may want to reach out to the family to see if they have any photos to contribute. When reaching out to the family, remember that timing is everything. You will want to wait six to eight weeks after the passing, which is a generally accepted amount of time to get through the first intense stages of grief.
In your communication, share your plans for a memorial page in the yearbook. If you’re including non-portrait photos, ask them if they have any photos they would like to contribute. If you’re writing an obituary, ask them if they would like to provide a quote. You can also ask them if there are any friends or teachers that would have something meaningful to share.
In the end, as the yearbook advisor, you need to make the hard decisions about the spread design, but reaching out to the family can provide a valuable resource when trying to design a memorial page. Be sure to leave them knowing that their loved one’s memorial is safe in your hands and be sure to thank them for any contributions.
You may also decide that you don’t want to ask the family for contributions. In that case, it’s still a good idea to reach out to them after the completion of the yearbook to let them know that a memorial page has been made for their loved one.
Designing the Page
The placement of this page is important. If you are opting for an entire page, you can place it at the end of the book before the index or at the end of the student section. If you are doing less than a page, include it on the appropriate portrait page or at the end of their class’s portraits.
For the layout, be sure to include a nice, clean portrait—though it doesn’t have to be an official school photo. For the headline, you may choose something like “Remembering” or “Our Memories of [name].” You could also use a line from a favorite song or simply use their name. The rest of the content can include photos and quotes from family and friends.
Once the page is assembled, gauge the tone. You want it to be comforting and respectful. Make sure the page’s personality matches the personality of the departed.
Above all, you want to create a page that brings a sense of comfort and peace to the people that have lost a member of their community. Go in with an open heart and you will create something that truly celebrates a life and gives tribute to the memories you’ve shared.