Simons named 2021 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
By Erinn Harris, MJE, awards chair
A return to school also means a return to in-person surprises for the H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year program.
On Monday, Dec. 6, Erinn Harris, MJE, awards chair, traveled to Corning-Painted Post High School in Corning, New York, to surprise Michael Simons, MJE, as he was named JEA’s 2021 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year. The announcement took place at a faculty meeting, followed by a celebratory reception with Simons’s students in the media lab.
The H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year program is designed to honor outstanding advisers and their exemplary work from the previous year, as well as throughout their careers.
Eight other yearbook advisers were recognized.
Distinguished Yearbook Advisers:
- Annie Gorenstein-Falkenberg, CJE
- Debra Klevens, CJE
- Britton Taylor
Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers:
- Makena Busch, CJE
- Annie Green, MJE
- Sarah-Anne Lanman, CJE
- Laura Negri, CJE
- Andrew Young, CJE
A $500 award for the winner’s school, and $500 awards for Distinguished Yearbook Advisers’ schools may be used to buy equipment for the yearbook classroom or to fund student scholarships to summer workshops. The H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year also will receive a personal $1,000 prize.
The program is underwritten by Balfour Yearbooks, Herff Jones Inc., Jostens Printing and Publishing and Walsworth Yearbooks.
2021 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
Michael Simons, MJE, is an extrovert. A people person. A man so focused on service those around him wonder how he manages to fit everything into a single 24-hour day.
“I think that each of us, each year — regardless of our experience — has the means to ‘Do Two’,” Simons said. “Two things. Each year. One is for you and your program. The other is for someone else, some other school, the greater good — however you want to frame it. Just two things. Any more than that, and most of us are right back to overwhelmed.”
According to Simons, his “second thing” is his podcast, “The Yearbook Whys,” which, since its launch in 2018, has logged 49 episodes and reached more than 41,000 listens.
According to everyone else, that “second thing” is his dedication to service.
For leaders in the Corning community, it was developing a yearbook program at Winfield Street Elementary School, inspiring a young generation of student journalists. It’s volunteering to coordinate in-house media and design work. It’s organizing a team to serve as photographers for the Wineglass Marathon, which draws 6,000 runners and brings millions of dollars into the community.
For student journalists in New York state, it’s helping students lead the charge in the New Voices New York movement.
Simons has been a key leader in New York’s New Voices movement, working to build a coalition and get student press freedom protections adopted by the New York state legislature. He has been a key voice in promoting — and even more importantly, helping students to promote — New Voices in New York, to ensure that the same types of protections his students have will be afforded to all students in New York (and nationally).
For yearbook students around the country, it’s contributing his well-rounded knowledge and skills to anyone with the desire to learn and grow. Simons’s energy is contagious.
“We were all immediately blown away by his extensive knowledge and unique and engaging ways of presenting information,” H.B. Plant High School adviser Christina Porcelli and Walsworth sales representative Sabrina Schmitz said. “His sense of humor and dynamic delivery kept a room of almost 500 students and teachers hanging on every word. Watching him teach, it was clear that Mike was one of those instructors whom you knew would not take it easy on these young journalists. Instead, he’d push them to achieve their best work and would celebrate with them when they did.”
Simons works tirelessly in the service of others, but, as 2013 Yearbook Adviser of the Year Brenda Gorsuch, MJE, said, “As much as Mike contributes to scholastic journalism, he saves his very best for his students.”
“In August 2019, Mike invited me to his Camp Tesserae at an outdoor retreat center in upstate New York,” Gorsuch said. “For three days the staff participated in team bonding activities and honed their photography skills. They brainstormed, discussed theme development and worked on designs for the 2020 Tesserae. Like the amazing father he is, he modeled kindness and encouraged his students to treat one another with respect.”
As with many of our other honorees, advising yearbook is not only about creating an exceptional product for the school community, but also — and more importantly — impacting student lives for the better.
“Our district’s mission statement is, ‘Students are the center of all we do,’” Corning-Painted Post Area School District superintendent Michelle Caulfield and Corning-Painted Post High School executive principal Robin Sheehan said. “Mike lives and breathes this mission each and every day.”
Hundreds of students over Simons’s 20-year advising career have been changed by his advising, but they’re not the only ones who benefited from his dedication to the craft.
“You see, Mike makes journalism fun,” yearbook parent and CPPHS colleague Jami Perry said. “He relates current event topics to students in ways they can relate, and he provides guided autonomy to find their own voices and creativity. Some of the results are seen in the amazing yearbook that is created by the students, and some are only seen through the development of watching a student, especially your own child, blossom into finding their unique voice.”
Simons will be recognized formally this spring in conjunction with the Spring JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention alongside the following Distinguished and Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers.
Distinguished Yearbook Advisers
Annie Gorenstein-Falkenberg, CJE
We all hope that our students will become lifelong learners — people who find their passions and pursue them, always knowing that our passions constantly evolve. The best way to teach this lesson to our students is to model a dedication to the craft, and no one does that better than Annie Gorenstein-Falkenberg, CJE.
“Annie is an absolute student of yearbooks. Each June when advisers share JPEGS of their books with one another, Annie pours over them, identifying examples of great work to share with others in her presentations,” McLean High School adviser Meghan Percival, MJE, said. “A text to Annie with a vague question like, “Which book had that gorgeous spread with the light purple background?” and a few minutes later she has identified it. She spots trends and expertly dissects what makes a theme or spread really work.
Adviser at Longmont (Colorado) High School, Gorenstein-Falkenberg has spent the last six years building a yearbook program that encourages students to exceed expectations, to believe in themselves and know they’re capable of achieving great things.
“There is just something about her that makes you want to be your best and live up to how she sees you,” former editor-in-chief Matthew Cash said. “It’s hard to explain, but she can inspire you to keep working and come up with creative ideas for problems you might be stuck on.”
Gorenstein-Falkenberg spends her time not only inspiring her own students to greatness, but also shares her knowledge and love of yearbook journalism with students and advisers around the country.
“Annie has an uncommon ability to make everything around her better,” Smoky Hill High School adviser Carrie Faust, MJE, said. “She makes publications better, both her own and those for whom she consults. She makes the journalism community better through volunteering her time. Annie makes me a better adviser by modeling the energy and dedication essential to raising great yearbook kids.”
Debra Klevens, CJE
In an era when yearbook advisers are required to innovate, comfort and inspire, the entire Parkway West High School community in Ballwin, Missouri, benefits from an adviser that embodies all of those traits and more. Debra Klevens, CJE, is one of a kind.
“Having worked in education in five buildings and for nearly 30 years,” principal Jeremy Mitchell said, “it is easy to declare Debra Klevens as — by far — the most progressive, forward-thinking, student-centered yearbook adviser with whom I’ve had the privilege to work.”
Klevens’s forward-thinking nature helps her lead a group of students with a constant desire to innovate and achieve.
“Because they were excited about the possibilities of raising the bar, the editors arrived [for a consultation] armed with lots of theme and design work for critique,” Herff Jones Special Consultant Paul Ender said. “As we talked, they demonstrated both their understanding of yearbook best practices and their awareness of trends in the professional arena that seemed to ignore those guidelines. Pawesehi staffers ‘get it’ and want to know more; that’s who they are and how they operate. And that is Debra’s influence to be sure.”
While gifted at advising her students to create exceptional publications, Klevens puts her students before the product, which is one of the reasons she has had such success with student publications. Never was this more important than in the midst of a virtual school year.
“I first met Mrs. Klevens at the beginning of my sophomore year in a virtual classroom. It was an odd school year,” yearbook editor Amelia Burgess said. “I found forming relationships with my online teachers difficult and awkward. Mrs. Klevens was the exception, as her uplifting support helped me find comfort in an unfamiliar area.”
As Mitchell said, Klevens runs a student-centered program, and that program primarily seeks to foster relationships and instill confidence in her students.
“I once told Debra that she is the kind of teacher you remember for a lifetime because she changes your life,” parent to three Paweshei staff members, Mollie Gulino said. “I will be forever grateful for the lessons she taught my daughters but, more importantly, for the way she made them feel.”
“Not to sound like someone on the other side of 50,” Brit Taylor said, “but a significant number of students today take classes virtually, engage anonymously on social media and spend most of their day avoiding meaningful contact. Not in yearbook. It’s not a class where you tell someone to open to page 352 and complete problems 1-20, and that’s what I love about it.”
As much as Taylor, adviser at Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida, loves yearbook, the yearbook community loves him more. As president of the Florida Scholastic Press Association, Taylor devotes time and energy to scholastic journalism programs across the state.
“His term was during the first year of the pandemic, and he recognized how important an organization like FSPA would be to members, especially advisers, who were all now home alone, trying to figure out how to pivot,” executive director of FSPA Adam Livesay said. “He was essential in creating resources that advisers used to survive the end of the year and will continue to use for years to come. I believe his impact on FSPA, not only over the last two years, but since he was ‘roped in’ to helping the organization his first semester of teaching 34 years ago, is immeasurable.”
Though his contributions to FSPA are significant, what is even more powerful is the effect Taylor has on his own students at Hagerty.
“Brit never yells at his students; he doesn’t have to. They want to perform for him,” Walsworth sales representative Missy Green said. “They can be found in his classroom long after the class has ended, sharing their photos, or reading their stories or showing their layout designs. They are excited to get his approval and feedback.”
Taylor’s approval and feedback means more to students than just as a way to improve their publications. That feedback gives students the confidence to find and pursue their passions in life.
“His impact on me cannot be understated,” former student Jake Arthur said. “He realized my passion for photography when nobody else believed in it and he developed in me a love for journalism. Mr Taylor to me was not just a teacher but a friend, confidant and role model. He exemplifies excellence in teaching, is fearlessly committed to scholastic journalism and had a profound impact on my life.”
Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers
Makena Busch, CJE
Adviser of Pantera yearbook at Mead High School in Spokane, Washington, since 2015, Makena Busch, CJE, has a passion for all things yearbook. “To say I’m obsessed is an understatement,” Busch said. “My passion for what I teach means this job has never felt like a job.”
The passion Busch brings to her class room is contagious, and it’s not only a love for yearbook that draws students to her program. It’s also her spirit.
“She epitomizes the mission and vision of Mead High School to develop the mind, heart, and spirit of all students while providing an opportunity to belong and somehow encapsulates it into a book every year,” principal Jeff Naslund said.
Busch and her staff make belonging a priority in both the yearbook, and in the yearbook program.
“Over the course of the past three years Makena has been someone who I could rely on,” former student Abigail Sonnichsen said. “Especially in high school when the pandemic started and life was extremely uncertain, she made me feel like I still had a purpose and that I was wanted. That saved me from some really dark moments. I know her presence has saved a lot of other kids as well.”
“Makena Busch takes yearbook to the extreme,” former student Hailee Speir said, “but in a good way.” Whether you call it “taking it to the extreme” or “following a passion,” Busch exemplifies what it means to be a dedicated — and now a Special Recognition adviser.
Annie Green, MJE
Educators often enter the profession hoping to make a difference in their students’ lives. At Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, Washington, Annie Green, MJE, has done that for countless students.
“Annie literally changes the trajectory of students,” Glacier Peak principal Jeff Larson said. “She helps them find their purpose and passion. She teaches them to believe in themselves. She teaches them what it means to work hard, to be dedicated, to be a leader. She teaches and models what true friendship looks like.”
Green’s students’ experiences on The Edge yearbook staff prove Larson correct without a shadow of a doubt.
“I’ll be honest, I hated high school my freshman year. I couldn’t wait to get out,” former editor Emily E. Nina said. “I almost dropped out and did school online because I hated it so much. But then I joined yearbook. And all of that changed.”
When an adviser has the ability to combine a sense of belonging with the desire to illustrate belonging throughout the school community in the form of a yearbook, that adviser is worthy of recognition.
“As I look back on my high school years, I don’t remember every equation I learned in math or every vocab
word I got quizzed on in English, but what I will always remember are all countless memories and experiences that yearbook has given me,” editor Raelyn Young said. “Our class makes an awesome yearbook that captures each school year, but the class also creates a bond that makes each student feel like they are a part of something special, like they always have a place to go.”
Sarah-Anne Lanman, CJE
“As a young adult at Munster High School, I never belonged. I never fit. Anywhere. I floated and lurked and lived in my head,” Munster (Indiana) High School adviser Sarah-Anne Lanman, CJE, said. “Come ninth or 10th grade, I decided who the most cool kids in the school were the yearbook kids. I wanted to be a part of that group. So I set myself on a path to get there, and then, once I did, finally — I fit. I belonged.”
This is exactly the type of program that Lanman has built for her students: one of belonging.
“Ms. Lanman was purposeful in her inclusion of all types of students and celebrated diversity among her students,” Dr. Eleni Makris, yearbook parent, said. “She took time to learn from their diverse perspectives and made sure that all perspectives were documented in the yearbook for others to read. As a family, we owe a great deal of gratitude to Ms. Lanman, as she will never realize the profound impact she had on the life of my son, Demetrios, and on my family.”
Lanman demonstrates this dedication to scholastic journalism — this sense of belonging — in her work with JEA as well.
“JEA relies heavily on volunteers to make convention activities successful. During the virtual events, [Lanman] has emailed me every time to see where she can help,” NSMC coordinator Nancy Smith, MJE, said. “That kind of volunteerism and dedication to the organization is truly rare and should be celebrated and rewarded. She is truly a professional partner to my JEA team and we are lucky to have her!”
Laura Negri, CJE
“Where do I even begin with Mrs. Laura Negri?” former student Earl Felix De Jesus said. “That is the real question. If only the world could catch up. I can simply tell you that she is not an anecdote.”
Laura Negri, CJE, might not be an anecdote, but anyone who has ever worked with her has a story to tell — a story about belonging, about believing, about true mentorship. Negri goes out of her way to make sure that her classroom is a place where students can feel at ease, and can find their place in that community.
“My room is cluttered and inviting. Students often work on laptops from tattered couches and upholstered chairs in the center of the room; desktops on the perimeter are ‘claimed’ and the cubicles personalized. The walls are covered with yearbook and ATPI posters, reference charts and calendars, and a cliché graveyard. There is a coffee station, a refrigerator and a microwave. Collectibles and stuffed animals are on the shelves with the reference yearbooks. There are blanket throws for the near-constant chill in the room. The yearbook room is a safe space for students to express their ideas and identities.”
In short, Negri has created an environment where people just have to be. When you combine a comforting environment with a comforting soul who sees the best in people, you can change lives.
“She is one of the few people who chose to believe in me even while I was failing and falling asleep in many of my classes, sometimes including her own, and I credit her for always giving me something to look forward to everyday during my years at Kerr,” former student Michael Bui said.
Andrew Young, CJE
All students need strong role models in order to become strong leaders, and this is especially important in junior high. Fortunately for the students at Woodland Junior High School, Andrew Young, CJE, is there to teach his students how to be dynamic leaders by allowing them true ownership of their publication.
“As I watched Andrew work with his kids, he really let’s them lead and interact with the trainers and their suggestions and feedback,” 1996 Yearbook Adviser of the Year Jim Jordan said. “It is clearly their book. He stands in the background guiding and listening, but he lets them take the lead – very impressive as the students are seventh and eighth graders.”
This demonstration of leadership is obvious to observers both in and out of the scholastic journalism community.
“The amazing accomplishments speak for themself, but I also feel that Mr. Young is an amazing teacher and
yearbook adviser for those things that go way beyond awards,” principal David McClure said. “The passion, belief, and innovation that he inspires in his students is second to none.”
Young is a mentor that not only inspires, but helps his students truly come into their own as journalists and leaders.
“Yearbook made each of us grow, especially through our leadership skills, which we learned from Mr. Young,” former editors Marlee Means and Ruby Templeton said. “We couldn’t have made that transition [from staff member to editor] without the guidance of our adviser. He was a huge role model for learning how we should lead and what real leadership looks like.”
Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.