An inspiring mentor who makes yearbook fun can change a person’s life.
Just ask Pedro Cabrera, yearbook adviser, Judson High School in Converse, TX.
As a student at Holmes High School in San Antonio, TX, Cabrera signed up for the journalism class because he wanted to have the same elective as his friend.
“I was a part of a very well run program headed by Martha Singleton, who I regard as one of the greatest people that I’ve ever met,” he said. “It turned out to be my saving grace because I ended up joining my school newspaper, which ended up being my high school ‘career’, which ended up being the greatest time I had in high school, which ended up leading to me studying communication, which ended up with me eventually taking over a journalism program.”
Fast forward a few years. Cabrera’s tenure as the yearbook adviser at Judson began with the 2014-2015 school year. When he stepped in, the program wasn’t living up to its potential.
“It was the dumping ground elective,” he said, “with a series of really bad books, no newspaper, and a debt that was growing year after year.”
Cabrera’s principal knew he had a journalism background, so when the previous adviser quit, he asked Cabrera to step in.
Undaunted, he started the newspaper, The Fuel, and revived The Rocket, the school’s waning yearbook program.
“I knew that I wanted to do for students what Ms. Singleton had done for me. And have a blast.”
He rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
“I had to get students out of the program that didn’t want to be there and train the students that did want to be there. I set up an introductory journalism course, and then they had to choose the newspaper path or the yearbook path, which is how it should be done.”
He developed a campus newspaper and tapped into social media platforms. He chose a new yearbook company and he created expectations for his students.
And, he created a culture that nurtures his students and inspires them to create quality publications and stay in the program.
“Just like every other workplace, if you have a high turn-over rate or employees that don’t want to be there, then the quality of the product decreases. And I can’t have that.”
They significantly paid down the debt the yearbook program had accrued. Now, the campus has a successful online newspaper with nearly 3,000 followers on three social media platforms, and it publishes three to four newspapers each year. The second yearbook produced under his tutelage was recognized by the Interscholastic League Press Conference (ILPC), the state journalism association in Texas.
Today, twice as many students have enrolled in his Introductory Journalism class, either as an elective credit or just because they’re curious about the program and want to join it. And, graduating students have gone on to major in journalism or mass communication in college.
A thriving journalism culture is rooted in loyalty.
“Students need to feel they are valued,” he said. “And I want them to know that their loyalty to my program is valued.”
His might be the only program in the country where staff members earn a letterman’s jacket.
“I was told about a local vendor that creates letterman jackets at a very reasonable price,” he said. “So, typically, in their junior year, students enrolled in Yearbook Production 2 or Newspaper Production 2 receive a letterman’s jacket, paid for by the program. If they take Yearbook Production 3 or Newspaper Production 3, they earn patches for their jackets.”
When his staff meets its deadlines, they celebrate by playing board games or by enjoying a down day to give them some well-earned time off.
He also honors them with a year-end party.
“The party has contingencies though: their behavior throughout the school year is vital, their ability to hit deadlines is vital, and the sales of the yearbook need to be to the point that we make a profit. If all of those are met, then the party occurs. And they want that party!”
Cabrera selects the best of the best of the year, and then the staff votes on them. At the party, he hands out awards for Best Story (newspaper specific), Best Spread (yearbook specific), and Best Photo (both staffs).
He also honors students that are selected to join the yearbook staff.
“The current staff’s seniors go around school, handing out gifts to the new staff members,” he said. “They also announce who I have chosen to be the next year’s editors, and that is when those people find out that they’ve been chosen.”
To promote the school’s publications, he created Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
“I knew I was going to have to brand the product somehow in order to spread the word,” he said. “I asked our graphic design teacher to create an assignment for his students, to create a logo for us. With Facebook and Twitter, whenever I post a story, I link it to our online newspaper. Whenever I post a yearbook photo, I watermark it with the logo that the graphic design students created.”
They use hashtags as often as they can, and he asks his students to retweet, reblog, or share the posts.
“I am very adamant about my students getting recognized for their work. So every time a story is posted, their byline is on it. Every time one of their pictures is posted, it’s attributed…’photo by…’ If kids know their name is online, they will share it, and then their friends will share it, and so forth and forth. Before you know it, tons of people have seen what we posted.”