Ziegler named the 2020 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
By Erinn Harris, MJE, awards chair
Teaching in virtual classrooms during a global pandemic often means spending most of the day in conversation with faceless squares. This is a reality educators across the country are facing, and when the cameras come on — all at once — you know something exciting is about to happen.
On Friday, Jan. 15, all the cameras came on at Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California, for Mitchell Ziegler, CJE, as he was named JEA’s 2020 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year.
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:
- Phillip Caston, CJE, Wando High School, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
- Matthew LaPorte, CJE, Southwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas
- Yvette J. Manculich, CJE, Powell Middle School, Littleton, Colorado
Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers:
- Suzanne E. Abdelrazaq, John Champe High School, Aldie, Virginia
- Robin Christopher, Del Norte High School, San Diego
- Kelly J. Huddleston, MJE, Franklin Road Academy, Nashville, Tennessee
- Tiffany Kopcak, CJE, Colonial Forge High School, Stafford, Virginia
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 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.
H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year
In his 31 years as a yearbook adviser, Ziegler has become a legend in the field. Student press rights advocate, photography guru, local committee chair, writing coach, contest judge: there isn’t one area of yearbook that isn’t in Ziegler’s wheelhouse.
In his own words, “Jeez, I love this.”
Even for those with a deep love of yearbook, COVID-19 presented significant obstacles in production schedules. However, the pandemic was yet another opportunity for yearbook students — and their advisers — to demonstrate the value of yearbook and 21st Century Skills.
“March 16, 2020, was emblematic of the ways journalistic yearbooks epitomize 21st Century Skills for students in college and their careers,” Ziegler said. “That day was the last day my students stepped foot on the Redondo campus for the year, and that day represents how they utilized creativity, critical thinking, flexibility and social skills to complete one of the best yearbooks in Redondo history.”.
Creativity, critical thinking, flexibility and social skills are all characteristics typical of Ziegler’s students, before, during and after the pandemic.
“Though the three of us are currently working in vastly different fields,” Ziegler’s 2017 Editors-in-Chief Lauryn Alejo, Alysa Kataoka and Matthew Yonemura said in a recommendation letter, “the lesson and skills Ziegler has imparted upon us have significantly shaped our work ethic and outlook outside of the classroom. Despite the differences in our career goals, the leadership skills that Ziegler taught us have naturally translated to our respective pursuits. Ziegler set up his students for their futures beyond yearbook.”
In order to advise yearbooks that consistently produce at the level of Ziegler’s staffs, one must be a lifelong learner, and Ziegler loves to learn.
“In years teaching workshops to advisers at various locales across the country, I’ve never seen anyone as giddy about learning as Mitch Ziegler,” Bradley Wilson, Ph.D., MJE, said. “He just really enjoys getting out and trying new things, looking at things from a new point of view and having new experiences.”
Anything Ziegler learns, he is ready and willing to share. A frequent presenter, podcast guest and volunteer, he has been a mentor to advisers and students around the country.
“Thankfully, I met Mitch Ziegler during the summer of 2017, and in him, not only did I find an encyclopedia worth of knowledge, experience and wisdom, but my students and I also discovered an educator, guide and willing mentor,” Orange County School of the Arts adviser Courtney Harper said.
Year after year, advisers around the country look at The Pilot yearbook and wonder, “How does he do it?”
Antelope High School adviser Pete LeBlanc, CJE, has the answer: “He is doing everything right. He empowers his students to run their own program, create their own book and execute their own vision. As an adviser, he points and prods in the right direction, giving them the space to take full ownership of their product. The power of the educational experience for Mitch’s students is among the best in the country, just like, and more importantly, than the actual yearbook.”
Zielger will be recognized formally this spring in conjunction with the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention alongside the following Distinguished and Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers.
Distinguished Yearbook Advisers
Phillip Caston, CJE
“There are very few people you cross in your life in which the moment you meet them you
know that they are going to impact your life greatly. Phillip Caston is that person for me,” 2017 Legend Editor-in-Chief Sophie Winnick said.
Over the last 14 years, Caston, yearbook adviser at Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, has not only had a profound effect on the lives of his students and colleagues, but found that advising yearbook has had the same effect on him.
After the devastating loss of one of his students, the impact of the family unit Caston creates in his classroom was apparent.
“They’re more special to us than anyone can ever understand,” he said. “I’ve stopped trying to explain to outsiders the bond I have with my yearbook kids. My staff members understand it. That’s all that really matters. And at the end of the day, I realized I couldn’t walk away from this job because of Faith’s death. Those students need me, and I need them.”
Throughout the challenges presented by tragedy, COVID-19 and flagging support for yearbook programs at the collegiate and high school level, Caston’s enthusiasm for yearbook and training his students to achieve excellence has not waned.
“The first time I met Phillip Caston, he was a 17-year-old student journalist who was serving on the South Carolina Scholastic Press Association executive board as a student officer,” retired Wanda newspaper adviser Tammy Watkins said. “He was young, enthusiastic, devoted to student journalism, motivated to make a difference. Over 20 years later, little has changed.”
Caston’s students and staffs have won numerous awards and accolades, and while he is admittedly competitive, it is clear that his main goal is helping his students grow into responsible, confident and caring adults.
“Caston taught me how to treat others and how I should expect to be treated,” 2019 Legend Editor-in-Chief Marguerite Peterseim said. While I did not appreciate this sort of unsolicited life advice at the time, now that I have entered the world on my own, I am endlessly grateful for his guidance. Caston brought out my sense of independence in expressing my own thoughts with confidence.”
Matthew LaPorte, CJE
The loud table. That’s the one that stands out for 2014 Yearbook Adviser of the Year Margaret Sorrows. It’s also the table where LaPorte, yearbook and newspaper adviser at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, in Las Vegas, sits with his students, “where students laugh, sing, point out graphics, browse Pinterest, interact and are involved in the creation of their yearbook. It’s a perfect example of student engagement,” Sorrows said.
Engagement plays a key role in LaPorte’s yearbook program. He strives to engage not only the students in his classroom, but also the entire school community through concerted efforts to promote the diverse stories of the students at SWCTA.
“When it comes to coverage, it’s important for each spread to reflect the diversity of the school,” he said. “It’s a basic expectation that each spread encompasses students of different genders and grade levels.”
Another key component of engagement for The Howl staff is marketing their product to the community. As 2004 Yearbook Adviser of the Year, Casey Nichols, MJE, said: “He literally wrote the book on marketing.”
For LaPorte, part of this marketing strategy includes assuring students that their investment is worthwhile.
“Each spread is a piece of real estate and it is important to us that we re-invest in those who invest in us,” LaPorte said.
An advocate for student press rights, LaPorte worked to pass New Voices legislation in Nevada, enlisting the crucial voices of his administrators to the cause. Since that bill has become law, LaPorte sees it as his responsibility to educate his students on what those rights mean.
“It is now even more in their hands the decisions that they make for their publication and being aware that they have the backing of an actual law has increased their desire to really tackle the subjects that are pertinent to a teenage audience,” LaPorte said.
The Howl at SWCTA is focused on students, and LaPorte’s rapport and relationship with those students is evidence of fact.
“He changes kids’ lives,” friend and Jostens representative Judy Allen said. “He opens their hearts. He helps them be real, honest and unafraid of showing their work they dug deep inside themselves to create. His classroom is a forum of ideas flying around like a ball of energy. My favorite phrase I hear his kids consistently repeat is, ‘What if we do … ?’”
Yvette Manculich, CJE
A room filled with 40 middle school students might seem terrifying for some advisers, but not for Manculich, adviser of The Prowl yearbook at Powell Middle School in Littleton, Colorado. An 18-year veteran, her two, year-long electives have a combined 71 eighth graders dedicated to creating an inclusive yearbook for the entire Powell community.
Not only is Manculich training her own students to create superior publications for their current student body, she is preparing them with skills they utilize in high school and beyond. Calumet adviser Greg Anderson at Arapahoe High School, Centennial, Colorado, is the lucky recipient of many of Manculich’s students.
“She sends me student journalists who have been well-trained in the fundamentals, who know how to solve problems and meet deadlines and, most importantly, who have had their passion kindled for creating quality work and for telling people’s true and authentic stories,” Anderson said. “She lays the foundation for their successes.”
This solid foundation serves students beyond scholastic publications.
“While all of my staffers may not choose to pursue journalism moving forward, my greatest enjoyment as an adviser stems from witnessing the personal and academic growth of my students as a direct result of yearbook,” Manculich said.
For many, the best moment of the year is the great unboxing — when advisers have the opportunity to watch as their students open the box of yearbooks for the first time and see what they labored over for an entire year. In 2019, when Prowl Editor-in-Chief Kate Tucker opened the box, she screamed, “Look at our child!” Then she started to cry.
“What Kate and the staff felt was not only a sense of pride but also ownership,” said advisers Justin Daigle, CJE, Brighton (Colorado) High School, and Carrie Hendrix, CJE, Lewis-Palmer High School, Monument, Colorado. “This moment — this is what makes Yvette such a special adviser. We admire the work she has done for scholastic journalism with her students and in our state, and we are proud to call her a friend and journalism colleague.”
Special Recognition Yearbook Advisers
Suzanne E. Abdelrazaq
“If there is one thing I know about Ms. A,” 2020 Quest Editor-in-Chief Skylar Hawes said, “it is that she cares about us.”
For Abdelrazaq, adviser of The Quest yearbook at John Champe High School in Aldie, Virginia, “us” means many things. It means the yearbook staff she works with day in and day out. It means the Champe community. It means the scholastic journalism community that values and appreciates her insight and energy.
Abdelrazaq knows that for members of the community to feel valued, they need to feel included, and she has made inclusion a priority in her advising strategy. While she’s making sure that The Quest covers a diverse set of students and topics, she’s modeling inclusion and empathy for her students.
“If I were asked what class has best prepared me for the reality of life, my answer would be Photojournalism with Ms. A, without hesitation,” former student Rachel Koh said. “It’s not the time-management or interpersonal skills that were learned, but is instead the role model that I had to learn from that has significantly impacted my life.”
Her skills as an adviser go far beyond her compassion and rapport with students.
“She’s a utility player who can teach InDesign or online page creation software,” Herff Jones representative Kara Petersen said. “She loves to teach design, but she’s just as good with the Yearbook 101 kids or copy writers and editors.”
From hard skills to soft skills, Abdelrazaq has all the bases covered.
“We all need a Mrs. A in our life,” said 2020 Quest Editor-in-Chief Abinaya Venkatesan. “I’m just glad I got to meet her in high school.”
Robin Christopher, Traditions adviser at Del Norte High School in San Diego, doesn’t believe in the impossibility of perfection. To her, perfection is a goal — a motivator — an achievable quality. And while perfection can be a dangerous trap for some, it’s not for Christopher, because she always puts the well-being of her students first.
“Whether it was asking us about the latest popular song or slang word we had put in a mod or telling us about her new kittens, connections matter to her,” 2021 Traditions Editors-in-Chief Sydney Bourassa, Celine Cen and Esther Jin said.
Perfection is about more than award-winning designs and stunning photography. It’s about knowing that the journey towards perfection never ends.
“We have never stopped seeing ourselves as a new program,” Christopher said. “And this has meant that we are always learning and trying to do better. It wasn’t just about making a bigger book; it was always about making a better book.”
As the years have gone by, this “new program” has become one steeped in tradition, including a tradition of excellence.
“It’s more obvious to me than ever why that principal who opened Del Norte chose Robin,” 1997 Yearbook Adviser of the Year Paul Ender said. “She is intelligent and curious, organized and ambitious, generous and caring. Her concern for helping the students find their talents and their place on campus is apparent immediately, as is the staff’s respect for her.”
Kelly J. Huddleston, MJE
Kelly Huddleston, MJE, is a fighter. She fights for the Blueprint yearbook and her journalism program. She fights for her students and their ideas, and she fights to make sure that every student at Franklin Road Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, from the youngest 3-year-olds to the high school seniors, feel seen and included in the yearbook.
For her first several years as adviser, her yearbook program was a club that met for about 30 minutes at the end of every day. Huddleston fought for three years to transform the club into a class, and after 10 years, she’s helping transform the book itself.
“She kept every yearbook in the history of our school in her room, and the staff noticed early on that it was rows of navy covers with hardly any creative input,” former student Summer Vo said. “Yet, Mrs. Huddleston let us change that, and accepted us for all of our different ideas. Our time with her made the accomplishments of the past pale in comparison to what we believed we could do, just like the covers of the past.”
In addition to helping her staff transform the yearbook and take ownership of the process, Huddleston creates a community in her “little closet space,” former student Catie Romanelli said.
“Mrs. Huddleston gave us all a space where we could be ourselves unapologetically, and this allowed us to blossom as both students and young adults,” Romanelli said.
In a time when differing beliefs are often met with confrontation and disdain, this safe space Huddleston has created for her staff is all the more important.
“In some of my other classes people were sometimes loud about their own beliefs, but very quick to shoot down others, and this caused tension between everyone,” 2021 Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Addison Carroll said. “But in Yearbook, Mrs. Huddleston encouraged everyone to get along and respectfully be able to talk about anything and it was amazing. We knew that we might not all agree on everything, but we were all able to look past that and let each other talk freely (though still respectfully) without the fear of backlash or resentment form each other.”
Tiffany Kopcak, CJE
“Alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic!”
Colonial Forge High School adviser and Kopack recommender Michael Snead recalls hearing H.L. Hall, MJE, begin each day with these words at an advisers’ institute at Kent State University.
“I have never heard Tiffany [Kopcak] begin her class with those words,” Snead said, “but I can say with certainty that she embodies that spirit.”
Kopcak advises The Apollo yearbook at Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Virginia. She inspires all those around her to feel alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic with her energy and innovation.
“I feel as if I’ve seen it all when it comes to yearbook, Walsworth representative Shelby Flamm said. “In spite of these experiences, there is something special about how I feel after being in Tiffany’s classroom. I always leave feeling inspired and that I have learned something new. This is usually because Tiffany is always developing new ideas, creatively dreaming up something that has not been done before and continues to be a pioneer for yearbook journalism.”
Those around Kopcak are inspired to innovate, but her primary focus is diversity.
“It begins with the premise that every student belongs in the journalism classroom and extends to focus on telling inclusive, diverse stories,” Kopcak said.
Increasing diversity in coverage and storytelling comes with its challenges, and under her leadership, Kopcak’s students learn to consider purpose and inclusion in their coverage.
“Controversial issues and diverse stories belong in the book,” Kopcak said. “If it’s current and will have historical value, it passes the yearbook test. We try to stay positive, but truthful, in all yearbook stories. There’s rarely a final decision beyond the editorial board. They talk. I advise. We reach an agreement.”
Former student Kaitlyn Fulmore is now pursuing a career in journalism because of a decision she made as a freshman in high school: taking Kopcak’s class.
“Both inside and outside her class, Ms. Kopcak gave me every opportunity to grow my love for yearbook and shaped my high school experience for the better,” Fulmore said.
The award is named for H.L. Hall, MJE, who was the first Yearbook Adviser of the Year in 1995 and a JEA past president.
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.