For the second time in three years, Helios named Pacemaker finalist for 2020-2021 yearbook

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Image used with permission from Lindsay Safe

The Sunny Hills Helios yearbook program has earned its fourth Pacemaker finalist nomination by the National Scholastic Press Association [NSPA]. The latest recognition – posted on the NSPA website Dec. 16 during final exam week last semester – is based on the 2020-2021 annual titled, “Don’t Stop Now. You Haven’t Tried This.” The staff will find out whether it’s a Pacemaker winner during the NSPA’s convention April 7-9 in Los Angeles.

Susie Kim

This story was updated with new information on Feb. 7 at 3:20 p.m.

Of the 29 Helios staff members during the 2020-2021 hybrid/distance learning school year, only three students attended school in person.

But none of those were editors or returning staffers, yearbook adviser Lindsay Safe said. They remained at home, even when it came to working on their yearbook assignments.

Additionally, only eight had experience producing an annual from the previous year.

Despite these challenges, the Helios team produced a 311-page volume that earned recognition as a Pacemaker finalist from the National Scholastic Press Association [NSPA], which assesses for inventive design, crisp photos and thematic harmony to award the top student media in broadcast, magazine, online, newspaper/magazine and yearbook. 

The NSPA posted the announcement on its Twitter page on Dec. 16 – the last student day of the fall semester.

“The awards to me are like icing on a cake,” Helios adviser Lindsay Safe said. “But really, the bigger excitement is the fact that the book was even made during a time like this.”

The program is among 58 other high schools across the country, including 11 from California, that received such a distinction. This also marks the fourth time that the NSPA has named Helios a Pacemaker finalist. (The yearbooks from the 2002-2003, 2007-2008 and 2018-2019 school years received finalist standing with only the ‘02-’03 and ‘18-’19 winning the Pacemaker award).

The staff will find out if they are a Pacemaker winner for a third time in school history and eligible to receive a plaque during the NSPA’s April 7-9 convention in Los Angeles.

Safe submitted the yearbook – titled, “Don’t Stop Now. You Haven’t Tried This.” – over the past summer in June, and placement results were announced Dec, 16 on the NSPA website, though she initially found out the same day through a text message congratulating the Helios staff from the retired yearbook adviser of Redondo Union High School, Mitch Ziegler.

The awards to me are like icing on a cake…But really, the bigger excitement is the fact that the book was even made during a time like this.”

— Lindsay Safe

She knew the team would produce a high-quality product despite the obstacles that came with hybrid/distance learning and expected to earn such an honor.

“We took so much care and overcame impediments, allowing us to make a yearbook that doesn’t look like it was made in the pandemic,” Safe said. “There were pages that were a bit more sparse than they would be in a normal year, but I think if anyone looks through the pages, it would be hard to guess that.”

The yearbook’s distribution date was constantly delayed because staff members completed their assignments entirely online, making it difficult to cope with crashing software and unstable internet, co-editor-in-chief [EIC] senior Jacky Kim said. 

Students who purchased one didn’t get to pick it up until June 30.

“We didn’t cut any pages because we felt that if we cut pages, that was saying to the rest of the kids that this year didn’t matter,” she said. “[That] year still happened, and it still needed to be documented. We need to show what happened in that awful year.” 

Especially without the ability to summon students during in-person learning, Safe and the Helios staff members struggled with sourcing for photos.

However, she feels that crowdsourcing — relying on the students to take their own photos for submission — benefited the staff overall because it became an effective practice for in-person communication as well.

“We realized that just because we are back in school doesn’t mean we can’t continue to use that as a skill and a source,” Safe said. “We get a lot of good content, and we get to see into the kids’ lives in a way that you can’t see when you’re on campus.”

Last year’s EIC Anika Madan, who worked alongside current co-EIC June Kim, recalled time spent throughout weekends and past late-nights at home using Zoom and Discord in an effort to finalize the yearbook.

“Last year, it was really difficult making the yearbook, from guiding students to taking photos to asking for responses, and it was definitely a learning experience,” said Madan, who was not expecting this result from the NSPA. “However, I’m so glad that with our hard work, we were able to achieve this.”

The freshman public health science major at University of California, Irvine advises future staff members to collaborate and encourage each other during the process of creating an annual.

“The staff members truly put in so much effort, and I’m glad that we had each other’s back when it came to completing spreads and [meeting] deadlines,” Madan said. “The awards just show how amazing our yearbook program and staff is.”

Likewise, this year’s co-EIC senior Joyce Pau celebrated the achievement during finals week through congratulating her peers in December and decided to use it as motivation to grind for this upcoming yearbook.

“I was already surprised at the fact that we made a yearbook while in distance learning, so I was beyond excited when I heard from Ms. Safe during our winter potluck on [Dec. 16] that we won the Pacemaker award,” Pau said. “I’m super proud of our staff’s collective work and also our EICs, June Kim and Anika Madan, for their leadership.”

The staff members truly put in so much effort, and I’m glad that we had each other’s back when it came to completing spreads and [meeting] deadlines.”

— Anika Madan

Though overwhelmed with the responsibility that came with being design editor last year as a junior, she said Safe and the yearbook representatives deserve credit for supporting and sharing their design knowledge during the process.

“I knew it was also going to be a challenge last year because of how unpredictable last year was, but with the way we organized the 2020-2021 book, we were able to be flexible on what we wanted to cover and how to cover it,” Pau said. “I’m also very thankful for the school’s help in making a yearbook while distance learning because without their help in sending photos and their interviews, we would not have been able to make a yearbook.” 

Despite holding doubts and having lower expectations while working on the yearbook, Jacky Kim believes the Pacemaker award was worth receiving for the effort the Helios staff put in.

“Since everything was done through countless Zoom meetings and Discord calls, it was hard keeping up with the deadlines,” she said. “However, the fact that we were able to receive such an honorable award makes me proud of the effort that was put in.”

For the first fully in-person school year in two years, Safe said she hopes the Helios staff will successfully publish a yearbook on time, which would mean that distribution would occur in mid-May before the end of the spring semester.

“We’re doing a [entirely] chronological-style yearbook, which is new for us,” said Safe, who usually implemented a traditional coverage and attempted an umbrella coverage, focusing every story on each spread on a certain concept, for the first time last year. “So I hope we can complete the yearbook and stay on top of it.”