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Covering Natural Disasters in Your Yearbook

Four students embrace each other as they survey the damage from a natural disaster at their school

As sad as it is, a lot of communities experience natural disasters and their people must come together and rebuild. Sometimes it can be a struggle as a yearbook adviser, student editor, or team to decide whether or not to capture this historic event in your school’s yearbook, especially if you have younger students who may not fully grasp what happened. To help alleviate some of the back and forth and uncertainties, we’ve laid out a guide of best practices when covering natural disasters in your yearbook. 

Wildfire yearbook spread example featuring licensed stock images and a timeline of events
Above is a pre-designed page by TreeRing for users to drag and drop into their yearbooks. Users can customize the spread by adding neighborhood-specific information as well as their theme graphics.

Are Natural Disasters Yearbook-Worthy? 

Including current events is typically a staple for every school’s yearbook, since it is essentially a snapshot of what life was like that year. But determining the best way to cover natural disasters, which is also considered an event,  isn’t always the first thing to come to mind for yearbook editors. Or the easiest. And it’s not something for which one can completely prepare. Natural disasters can shape a school year and have an impact on everyone. Because of this, there’s value in including it in the yearbook. It’s important to find uplifting ways to cover these stories and when interviewing school members, while respecting the boundaries of those that were impacted. 

The right words and tone can emphasize how a school showcased perseverance in the face of a tragedy.

Include Accurate and Approved Information in your Coverage 

Be it wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, or earthquakes, it’s critical to provide accurate information about the event. When looking back at a yearbook years from now, you don’t want the wrong date, for example, to be in print. The goal is for students to be able to look back to remember this part of their history. And ideally, the way it’s covered in the yearbook can show how the school and community overcame the crisis. 

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a copyright lawyer on your yearbook committee, it’s critical to understand the basics of trademark and copyright laws when deciding on if/when to use professional photos to cover a natural disaster. You always want to make sure it’s an image you are allowed to use and that it’s free to the public. If this seems like something you don’t have time to research, instead it might be worth considering stock images that are available online, licensing images from your local newspaper, or using—with permission—photos your community has captured.

Along with photos, you should also consider the statistics to highlight. It’s important to remain sensitive and not include mentions of a death toll, for example. Instead, you can focus on other hard facts like the date(s), time, location, the scale of the natural disaster, etc. in your yearbook. If your school community collected donations, include those numbers.

When it comes to deciding on what information to include, a great tip is to make sure that your yearbook committee has an editorial policy in place that can be shared with the community. Covering any kind of crisis can be difficult and some may always disagree with the way you did it, so it’s best to have a written policy so that teachers, students, and parents can be aware of how the yearbook team will plan to cover a crisis like a natural disaster or a death in your school community. Get your administrator’s signature on it.

Lessons Students can Learn from Natural Disasters

A tragedy is not something anyone can overcome easily. It’s worth highlighting the hope of people within a community when they’re facing hardship together. Experiencing something of this nature becomes a part of one’s story and while it may take some extra dedicated time to determine how to showcase the lessons learned in a positive way, it’ll be beneficial to capture an impactful time such as this in a yearbook. 

Interview Questions for Students and Teachers Impacted by Disasters

  • How did the [natural disaster] impact the community? 
  • What was, or is currently, being done to help rebuild?
  • Are there any stories you’re comfortable sharing about the [natural disaster’s] personal impact?
  • Where were you and what were you doing as this event unfolded?
  • How has the [natural disaster] impacted how you view your day-to-day life at home and at school?
  • What advice would you give to students that may face a similar natural disaster crisis in the future?
  • What are you grateful for after this? 
  • What changes did you see within the community during and after this event?
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