Rathbun named 2022 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
By Erinn Harris, MJE, awards chair
Eight yearbook advisers ended the semester with an extra reason to celebrate.
JEA President Sarah Nichols, MJE, traveled to Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Dec. 21, to surprise Kristi Rathbun, MJE, as she was named JEA’s 2022 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year. The announcement took place at a faculty luncheon, followed by a celebratory reception with Rathbun’s students.
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.
Seven other yearbook advisers were recognized.
Distinguished Yearbook Advisers:
- Robin Christopher, CJE, Del Norte High School, San Diego
- Andrea Negri, MJE, Bellaire (Texas) High School
- Daniel Reinish, CJE, George C. Marshall High School, Falls Church, Virginia
Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers:
- Sarah Kirksey, MJE, Ladue Horton Watkins High School, St. Louis
- Emily Pyeatt Arnold, CJE, Aledo (Texas) High School
- Jayna Rumble, MJE, University of Chicago Laboratory High School
- Sergio Luis Yanes, CJE, Arvada (Colorado) High School
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 Inc. and Walsworth Yearbooks.
2022 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
Bun Bun. Mama Bun. Mom.
Kristi Rathbun, MJE, adviser at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, goes by many names in Room 4113, and JEA gave her a new title to add to the list: 2022 H. L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the year.
Rathbun has been advising yearbooks since 1996, with a three-year hiatus to work for Jostens Inc. as a creative accounts manager. But Rathbun is more than just a yearbook adviser, she is a guide, a mentor and a leader nationwide, making service to scholastic journalism a priority.
“Service feeds people in ways they sometimes take for granted or forget about,” Rathbun said. “For me, it fills me up.”
Though these years of service include 15 years as JEA’s Colorado state director, judging and critiquing are Rathbun’s favorite ways to serve.
“Whether sitting at a table in the midst of a JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention for an on-site critique, working with a staff at a workshop or framing comments into a digital form, seeing the work of student journalists and being able to provide meaningful insights and feedback is a joy,” Rathbun said. “I take each critique as an honor, and I aim to reward staffs for what they are doing well while asking them questions to help them find ways to improve and push the quality of their content.”
While the impact that Rathbun has on yearbook programs all over the country is substantial, a look inside Room 4113 shows the dedication, love and care she has for her students.
Creating an inclusive environment is a priority for Rathbun, and that warm, welcoming atmosphere extends beyond the classroom walls, into the Black & Gold yearbook and into the halls of Rock Canyon High School.
“We aren’t exclusive; we’re inclusive, and we’ve grown into an awesome community that truly represents the complex facets and faces of our school,” Rathbun said. “Our staff includes both experienced and rookie journalists, Advanced Placement and SPED, males and females. What once was a single class of a few dedicated girls is now two classes full with athletes, musicians, artists, journalists and students looking for their place at Rock Canyon — their home.”
Whether she realizes it or not, Rathbun’s energy and care draws people to her and for good reason.
“She doesn’t let a single student, whether she knows them or not, go through life alone,” student Raegan Synk said. “Students and teachers all throughout the school know her and trust her with their emotions. She is a friendly soul who accepts everyone for who they are and will never leave them. Mrs. Rathbun is a safe haven for anyone who needs it.”
Rathbun is a trusted adult in her building and a trusted leader in scholastic journalism, but she is also utterly brilliant when it comes to advising. In the last four years, the Black & Gold has earned NSPA All-American honors, Gold Medal critiques from CSPA and All-Colorado honors for 12 years in a row. Rathbun’s students were Pacemaker finalists in 2019 and won Pacemakers in both 2020 and 2021. CSPA put the publication on the Crown list in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the staff won a Gold Crown in 2020. The numbers speak for themselves — the book is a success any way you look at it.
“Yes, we do all of the actual work,” Aahana Nandy, editor-in-chief said. “But Mrs. Rathbun is the backbone of every 364-page book we produce. We would not be the Black & Gold yearbook with Mrs. Rathbun.”
Fellow advisers will relate to Rathbun when she says, “Advising is fun and never boring. Yep, there is stress. Yep, it can be chaotic. And yep, I’m addicted to it.”
This healthy addiction inspires and encourages Rathbun’s students.
“She is more than just a wonderful human,” Synck said. “She is a strong teacher and adviser. She knows what is best for her students, and she is willing to do whatever she has to if it means her students will be successful in life. She constantly pushes us to do our best but never past our limit.”
But all the book’s success aside, Rathbun knows that life is about more than yearbooking. “Sometimes, loving on kids is more important than a deadline or an award, and few do this as well as Kristi,” said Jessica Hunziker, MJE, adviser at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, Colorado. “This kindness and selflessness doesn’t stop with her kids — it’s been over a decade since my student teaching, but there’s no conversation with Kristi that doesn’t end in a ‘love you’ and a big hug.”
Stories of Rathbun’s dedication and talent are too many to count, and this is just one of the many reasons she is so deserving of being named the 2022 Yearbook Adviser of the Year.
“I realize that what usually makes a strong letter of recommendation is an anecdote that exemplifies the qualities of the person who is being recommended. I wish I had one to tell,” former Black & Gold editor Amanda Braucheler said. “To sum up Mrs. Rathbun’s power as an adviser in one anecdote would do a disservice to it. What makes Mrs. Rathbun revolutionary, as a teacher, adviser or human, is how she lives.”
Distinguished Yearbook Advisers
Robin Christopher, CJE
“After 13 years, I believe I have learned a lot and I have grown as I have had the privilege of watching my staff members blossom,” said Robin Christopher, adviser at Del Norte High School in San Diego. “And now, I can proudly shout, ‘Yearbook is my life.’”
Yearbook may be Christopher’s life, but as the adviser for the Traditions yearbook, she knows that life is about more than just making a yearbook. It’s about teaching students the publication process and showing the entire school community that they matter.
“Right now our world needs stories that shine,” Christopher said. “Our students need stories that preserve the memories of high school because after high school ends, the world diverges. Yearbooks document the group experience and remind us later why it felt so good to belong.”
This sense of belonging comes from the fact that Christopher sees her students as complete and complicated individuals, not just students that she sees for one block a day.
“I am involved in theater in addition to yearbook, and last year was especially hard to manage time with both,” 2023 Traditions Editor-in-Chief Bria Gilliam said. “I missed my spread deadline, and I knew that I was failing the team. However, Mrs. C never made me feel ashamed of it. Instead, she asked me about my schedule and helped me create a plan to get my spread completed. She saw a solution when all I could see were the problems I had created, and it’s moments like those that have made me feel like Mrs. C cares about me as a person and not just a yearbooker.”
Not many people really understand what advisers do on a daily basis, but when you have the kind of impact Christopher has on her students, it becomes apparent to everyone — students, colleagues, administrators, even parents.
“I don’t know much about how to put a yearbook together,” parent Sonja Iribarren said, “but I saw Robin excel in mentoring and challenging the students, helping them build skills in organizational and project management that would benefit them after high school.”
Andrea Negri, MJE
“As I tell the students, my job is to make sure the bill is paid at the end of the year and to try to keep us out of the news,” said Andrea Negri, adviser at Bellaire (Texas) High School.
While this is true — advisers do need to stay on top of the finances and out of the headlines, Negri, who advises the Carillon yearbook, does so much more for her students.
“The publications are one of the places my students really have freedom to make decisions and see an impact,” Negri said. “They don’t have much say in what books they read in English or what projects they have in statistics. But they do get to decide what photos to use, what alternative copy should go on the spread and which pun is best for a headline. There’s endless possibilities.”
These possibilities may be endless, but it is Negri who provides those opportunities, and as a result, she is able to build bonds with her students while helping them support and cultivate relationships with one another.
“I see Ms. Negri as a mentor who I can come to for advice at any time, and I know my peers view her similarly,” 2021 Carillon Editor-in-Chief Ava Jiang said. “Beyond her journalism knowledge, experience and connections, she has exhibited compassion and dedication to her students that deserves recognition.”
Negri’s impact on scholastic journalism has grown beyond Bellaire High School as she constantly works to help students and advisers from all over the country.
“As devoted as Andrea is to her own students, she is unselfish in sharing her knowledge with others,” said Cindy Todd, Texas Association of Journalism Educators executive director.
For her Master’s Professional Project at Kent State University, Negri created an online course geared toward yearbook representatives to better understand student press rights and the First Amendment.
As her project adviser and committee chair, Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE, said, “If you’re looking for a yearbook adviser to honor who is ‘alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic’ enough to make H.L. proud, look no further than Andrea Negri.”
Daniel Reinish, CJE
The most successful yearbook programs in the country tell stories that matter, and the most successful advisers in the country make programs that matter.
Daniel Reinish, CJE, has done just that at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, as adviser of the Columbian yearbook.
“Yearbook was the most impactful high school experience my daughter had,” parent Kelly Glazier said. “She learned teamwork and leadership. She learned to work under deadline and had to reimagine what a yearbook even looked like during a pandemic. Mr. Reinish’s program enables the kids to grow into confident leaders, and develop the skills they need not only in journalism but in life beyond the classroom.”
Part of the reason Reinish’s program has such an impact on students and the Marshall community is because he respects his students and the work they do.
“He treated us as collaborators and never subordinates, never dismissing any idea that a student introduced,” 2021 Editor-in-Chief Sonel Cutler said. “No problem was too large to solve or too small to warrant attention. Mr. Reinish takes student journalism extremely seriously.”
Because Reinish takes student journalism so seriously, he has devoted countless hours of his time to the Virginia Association of Journalism Teachers and Advisers as its director. He worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to make sure that Virginia students and advisers had virtual platforms for conferences, retreats and resources.
“Seldom in my 35-year career have I encountered a teacher with such patience and grit,” JEA Vice President Valerie Kibler, MJE, said.
Constant patience and grit can take its toll, and Reinish can teach all of us a valuable lesson in prioritizing self-care.
“I still want to be just as committed to my students, but if I’m going to be in this for the long haul, then my own health and well-being matter, too,” Reinish said. “I need to continue making space for the people, hobbies and pursuits that I care about so that I can be the best person I can be when I’m there for my students.”
Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers
Sarah Kirksey, MJE
“Imagine a high school publications office, with its white boards populated with to-do lists, deadlines and “in” jokes. Picture it on a Friday night, with a deadline looming and pizza boxes littered around the room as students work collaboratively. Circulating amongst the students is a young woman with a gentle smile who thrives on the chaos and somehow keeps all the metaphorical plates spinning and deadline on track.”
This image comes from Gabrielle Tullman, parent of one of Sarah Kirksey’s students. Tullman’s words paint a picture of what it’s like to work on the Ladue Horton Watkins High School Rambler yearbook: Fun, festive, productive and meaningful. And moments like these are where Kirksey finds her greatest joy in advising.
“I think I find the most joy in the day-to-day moments, laughing with these amazing people and making memories while we record history,” Kirksey said, “It’s working with the students, watching them grow into young adults, watching them help each other, laugh with each other and watching them cheer each other on when they succeed that brings me the most enjoyment.”
This joy is infectious, and it is vital to maintaining a successful program.
“At a time when we are seeing elective programs decline and even dissolve, we are seeing huge growth and accomplishments within this program,” Associate Principal Beth Rapoff said. “Sarah truly is a talented, driven educator. She is also one of the top educators at one of the top high schools in our state.”
Emily Pyeatt Arnold, CJE
“I believe teaching should always be student-centered,” Emily Pyeatt Arnold, CJE, said. “They are my ‘why.’”
Adviser of the Ledoian yearbook at Aledo (Texas) High School, Pyeatt Arnold began her love of journalism as a high school student in broadcasting and photography classes. Back then, she wanted to become a sports broadcaster and work for ESPN. Today, she uses that passion to inspire students to find their own.
“Without her programs, many students she serves would find themselves disconnected, without a mentor and void of post-graduation plans,” Associate Principal Loryn Winwehen said. “The organizations she sponsors are a platform for students to discover their talents and spark the creativity that would not have been possible otherwise.”
Colleagues, students and co-workers all agree that it is time for the world to know of Pyeatt Arnold’s advising prowess.
“A study of her students’ work or observing one of her sessions at one of the many national conventions and workshops where she’s been a speaker, you’ll learn that Emily is on another level when it comes to teaching and advising yearbook,” said Alyssa Boehringer, adviser at McKinney (Texas) High School. “It’s time for us to let the world know.”
Jayna Rumble, MJE
“It says something when a student, who has no real interest in a subject, takes a high school class, and it then becomes his chosen profession,” parent Vicki Stevenson said. “Even more than it does of the student, it shows the quality and dedication of the teacher.”
Jayna Rumble, MJE, adviser of the U-Highlights yearbook at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, demonstrates quality teaching and dedication in her classroom and in her service to scholastic journalism.
“Her laugh is contagious,” said Pamela Bunka, adviser at Fenton (Michigan) High School, “and she always has a ready smile, even though she may have been up until 3 a.m. working alongside Michigan Interscholastic Press Association’s Executive Director Jeremy Steele, CJE, to put final touches on award certificates or to help calm a homesick camper. She did everything she could to lift our spirits and make all of us feel welcome and at home at Michigan State University.”
Making people feel welcome and at home is one of Rumble’s many strengths as an adviser. She makes her own students feel safe and welcome in her classroom, and teaches them to make students in their community feel safe and welcome through their inclusive coverage.
“I encourage my students to find and elevate the important stories of people in our community who have been marginalized, mistreated or otherwise ignored,” Rumble said. “I consistently remind students to step outside of their bubble, to challenge assumptions and norms, and to recognize their internal biases.”
Sergio Luis Yanes, CJE
The goal of a yearbook is to serve as an accurate historical record of the school year. The goal of a good yearbook is to tell the stories of the year. A great yearbook helps build and empower the community it serves, and that is exactly the type of program Sergio Luis Yanes, CJE, has built at Arvada (Colorado) High School.
“Historically, our school has had difficulty getting students to engage in school activities and feel connected to school,” principal Shannon High Vigil said. “But, through the yearbook program, students are now at many school events and they are promoting a culture of acceptance and empowerment. Mr. Yanes is responsible for this inclusivity.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion are top priorities for Yanes, not only in the high school community but in his work as a JEA director-at-large.
“While in my own room I aim to continue encouraging my students, I want to start a ripple effect by helping other advisers, new or experienced,” Yanes said. “The topics of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are huge for me — as a person who experiences a few marginalizations myself, it is a space I live in all the time. We need to keep pushing these efforts across our field.”
The encouragement Yanes shows his students creates a culture of support and acceptance. Yes, this type of culture can help create great yearbooks, but it also helps students see greatness in themselves.
“He saw a purpose in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Editor-in-Chief Anna Franklin said, “and gave me opportunities to help me grow as a journalism student.”
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.