The Direction of Future Yearbooks is North

True North leads to the North Pole where it’s always been very cold.

New North is the high school at 6th & Holcomb where it’s getting very cool.

Two years ago North became the largest school in the state to implement a 1:1 student laptop program. This fall that’s transitioning into a 1:1 iPad distribution that will solidify the Polar Bears’ standing along the cutting edge of Project Based Learning (PBL). The rejuvenated journalism department is going to produce the state’s first 3D yearbook.

Numbered are the days of seniors exchanging vacuous advice like “don’t ever change” scribbled on the back of wallet photos. Imagine an app (it’s called Yearbook 3D) that turns someone’s yearbook headshot into a portal to their senior video. Hover over a photo from the fall musical and up comes the big ensemble number that ended Act One. Remember the big game with the arch rivals? Wanna relive the buzzer-beater that won it in overtime? Turn to the sports section and let your smartphone work its magic.

It’s just the latest sign that the communications and journalism departments at North have revived in a big way under the leadership of teacher/advisor Ben Graeber. When he returned to North a couple of years ago after a career detour through Seattle he took the helm of a program that had dwindled to include only a handful of students. The school paper, the North Oracle, had ceased publication. But Graeber has reenergized the media scene at North by tapping into a general mood swing there that’s evident in lots of ways from a renovation of the physical premises to improved test scores to an uptick in enrollment. Spirits are on the rise, a new reality that’s reflected in the fact that 120 kids are now involved with introductory journalism classes, the Oracle and/or the groundbreaking yearbook project.

A 3D edition of the 2013-14 Polar Bear was the joint brainchild of Graeber and Brad Hempstead, the school’s yearbook sales rep from Walsworth, a national vendor with a couple of 3D pilot projects around the country but nothing yet in this area. Hempstead keeps close tabs on Graeber’s yearbook class at North, visiting regularly to get progress reports and offer suggestions. Since this is homecoming/spirit week at North he was there on Thursday when Graeber sent his student staff into the field with their iPads to capture unusually vivid images of those rising school spirits roaming the halls on Superhero Day.

“Think of coming back for a class reunion and having this yearbook as a resource,” Hempstead said. “You could share videos of commencement besides just swapping memories of the ceremony. The possibilities are unlimited.”

Graeber pointed out that yearbook sales at North have flagged in recent years but there are early indicators of a reversal of that trend. At a meeting of seniors to get measured for caps and gowns and order graduation announcements it was clear that the 3D yearbook promises to be a must-have item. “I showed them what we’re going to be able to do this year and there was a definite ‘wow’ factor,” Graeber said.

And oh yes, this “augmented reality” edition of the Polar Bear won’t cost any more than the old fashioned one did without any of the 21st century bells and whistles.

Graeber doesn’t usually wear the cape that he donned for yearbook class on Superhero Day. But he could. One of the many turnaround stories unfolding daily at North is the resuscitated journalism department. And in some ways it’s the linchpin to getting all the others told. Besides the innovative yearbook, the Oracle’s Facebook and Twitter presences are modern megaphones the students are anxious to use to spread the good words about the renaissance at their school.

“North is leading the way now,” is how senior Dakota Lupkes put it on his way from yearbook class to whatever was next.

Besides the traditional job titles on the paper and yearbook staffs like Executive Editor and Sports Editor, Graeber (aka, Media Man?) has kids in roles like Chief Storyteller and Social Media Director.

So much to tell – so little time; it’s a good thing there’s an app now that will reflect the added dimension[s] at North. Don’t be surprised if the 2013-14 Polar Bear has a real bite to it.

Photos of North Students at Work on the New 3D Yearbook

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