The coronavirus pandemic may have kept Redondo Union High School students from attending in-person classes, but it did not stop the editors of its yearbook from completing its 100th edition.

When they heard campus would be shut down on March 12, the yearbook staff went into crisis management mode, said senior Vanessa Rebentisch, one of three editors-in-chief for The Pilot.

“We all went to a coffee shop and got everyone together, a lot of our editors, so that we could have like a giant workday, essentially,” recalled Rebentisch.

But some quick thinking from yearbook advisor Mitch Ziegler saved the day. Ziegler had started moving all of the yearbook files, including photos, on March 6. And, he made sure they had a backup.

“But (March 16), students came in for three hours to get things from their lockers, and that's when I handed off the hard drive to my editor. Everything was there,” Ziegler said, of the next edition of the award-winning yearbook.

The Pilot was named to the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) Hall of Fame in 2019 and has been a finalist in top student journalism awards across the country in recent years. The yearbook has won or been a finalist in the NSPA Pacemaker Awards, which have been given out for nearly 100 years, as well as the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crown Awards, multiple times in recent years.

To commemorate a century of yearbooks, the students already had in the works a photo layout of every RUHS yearbook cover, including the first book published in 1915.

They also had a photo essay focused on 100 hours in the life of a student or an event.

But a few days before the school shut down, Ziegler suggested adding content about the impact of the coronavirus on school life.

Co-editor-in-chief Samantha Aldover said the yearbook team decided to focus on all aspects of COVID-19 “from our point of view,” including its impacts, from students at RUHS to those around the world.

“We expanded, covering worldwide how it's spreading," said Aldover, adding they also wanted to include local closure and how students and staff at RUHS had been impacted by COVID-19.

While RUHS opened in 1905, the first yearbook wasn’t published until 1915. There was another published in 1916, but then there was a break until 1923.

For the 100th volume, yearbook staff scanned the cover of every yearbook and put those covers into historic perspective, with the aid of RUHS historian Terry Martinez.

That was important, said co-editor-in-chief Samantha Slatcher, as not many of the old yearbooks included current events into its pages.

“We were expecting to see a lot more about world events that would have shaped those years, specifically World War II,’ Slatcher said.

So, the editors ensured there were coronavirus-related pages in the 2020 yearbook.

"When people are looking back decades from now, they'll be able to see and learn and see how it changed people's lives,” Slatcher said.

Aldover said the photographers in the journalism program captured 100 hours of either student life or a community event, for a photo essay. The essays steered away from the star athlete or the most popular students on campus, she said.

“I think it does a really good job at telling the stories of really just every student,” Aldover said.

Virtual editing by 'the Triplets'

Editors working from home led to many challenges, such as losing face-to-face contact.

“But it was also really good to have a lot of extra time to finish the book because March and April is our crunch time" Rebentisch said. " So being able to dedicate much more time to yearbook while being at home was definitely beneficial for the book.”

Slatcher added that another challenge was keeping staff motivated. Since grades were frozen when school closed, she said, it was tough to get people to write stories for the yearbook and editors wound up doing more.

Ziegler said the students really jumped all over the challenge.

“They were enormously flexible in the way that we're doing things, and they're just a very talented group," Ziegler said. "I've had the three (editor-in-chiefs) for four years. We call them the ‘Triplets,’ and we started calling them that their freshman year.”

While the yearbook was finished on April 27, the senior editors still had to prepare for their college future during a pandemic.

Aldover is deciding between two schools in the United Kingdom. She visited, but before she applied.

“So of course, my memory was foggy," said Aldover. "I was going to do campus tours and kind of get a better feel of what school I was going to. But I know like a lot of other students we had to commit without actually being there and being in the school environment.”

Slatcher is committed to San Diego State.

“I was supposed to go tour it at the end of March, but all the tours canceled, so I committed to my school without ever actually seeing it,” Slatcher said.

Rebentisch is going to Texas A&M, in the engineering honors program. She is also a Brockman scholar, a merit-based, full-ride academic scholarship that covers five years of study.

Redondo Union is doing a good job of keeping seniors' spirits high, said Rebentisch, as they all deal with the disappointment of so many cancelled traditional, end-of-year activities.

"But there are things to look forward to and we have so much to be grateful for,” Rebentisch said.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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