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Seven students capture school year in a book

Article courtesy of TOM KEEGAN 

Member of CHS Yearbook Staff

Perhaps the best means of taking a humanized tour of the town’s history is at Westchester Library, where every Chesterton High yearbook is available to be checked out, but not removed from the premises.

The books didn’t just write themselves. They were put together by students, such as this year’s staff of just six girls and one boy, overseen by English teacher Jennifer Jendrzejczyk, aka Mrs. J.

It’s not out of a sense of duty that Mrs. J. has taken on the yearbook project for six years and counting. It’s a labor of love.

“I’m fascinated by them,” she said of old yearbooks, “to open them up and see what they were doing then. The basketball shorts alone fascinate me. They were so short, then they got so long, then they got so short again. What are you guys doing?”

The yearbook is as much a capsule of a moment in time as it is a book of record for a school year.

“The way the ladies are wearing their hair and the makeup styles,” Mrs. J. continued. “It seems to be such a reflection on what people thought was interesting, the trends, what books people were reading. To me, it’s just so interesting.”

At the beginning of each year, Mrs. J. educates the staffers on ethical and legal matters such as libel, slander, copyright and fair use.

“Then we have what we call the Instagram rule. We make sure it’s their best selves,” she said. “The legal things, of course, but then we try to make sure people look flattering.”

Again, the book doesn’t just fall into place. It grows from a structure that includes deadlines, goals and efficient use of time, lots and lots of time. All the things that require an editor. Editors. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.

Meet Chesterton High junior Marlee Wilson, who is in her third year on the Singing Sands Yearbook staff and second in the official role as editor.

The staff meets during eighth block of gold days (1:10 to 2:45), which alternate with maroon days on the school calendar.

The most challenging thing about trying to get six other teenagers to do what she wants them to do during their meetings?

“All of it,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot of trying not to come off as bossy but also making sure that they’re actually doing things.”

She manages, and the proof is in the progress they are making toward completion with just 13 gold days remaining.

“I do think that Marlee is the right person because she’s very assertive and dominant when it’s needed, and she also helps people through their problems and can be caring when that’s needed,” said freshman Chris Wilson, the only male on the staff and no relation to Marlee.

Jendrzejczyk called the entire staff, “incredible. They’re working super hard.”

Marlee Wilson looked around the room and shared a slice of the value that each staffer brings to the project, starting with fellow juniors Rilee Henry and Jocelyn Ringler, then moving to the four freshmen: Chris Wilson, Payton Hardesty, Melia Albaugh and Gracie Kish.

“Rilee, she’s my co-editor. she’s like the silent editor,” Marlee said. “I stand up and I yell at people, and she’s super sweet.”

Henry said she “made a vow to Marlee freshman year that I would do it for all four years with her and we’re just keeping that promise.”

Every team needs a glue member holding things together. To hear the editor tell it, Ringler plays that ego-free role.

“We call her my secretary, or my assistant,” Wilson said. “She literally does everything that people don’t do. … Jocelyn has done 40 pages this year because she’s just that crazy and great.”

Wilson clearly relies heavily on her two classmates.

“When I’m getting stressed over something, a lot of times they don’t even notice they do it, but they’ll come over and start doing something, and it takes all my stress away,” she said.

Chris Wilson was sitting at a desk by himself, on the edge of the rest of the group.

“Chris brings in the male view for everyone,” Marlee said. “He’s amazing because obviously there is only one boy. So we’ll be doing surveys and Rilee and I will be like, ‘What’s your favorite Taylor Swift album?’ And then Chris will bring in more male-centered things because I don’t sit at home and watch football. That’s just not my thing.”

Chris said he also takes it upon himself to police any threats of favoritism making it into the book.

“When they’re arguing over who should go on the page, I tell them it doesn’t matter if you have a beef with them or not,” he said. “It’s just that they are really good at what they are doing, so you need to make sure that they have the proper recognition.”

The editor then turned her attention to the three other freshmen working at a cluster of desks in the corner of the room.

“Payton’s super great,” Marlee Wilson said. “She takes on a bunch of pages, too. She’s in here during SRT and she’ll be doing tons of interviews. She interviews the athletes. I think one time she had 20 people in here doing interviews. It was scary. I was sitting off to the side watching. Terrifying.”

Albaugh said she doesn’t think she’ll be on the staff again next year. Her editor is grateful for her year of contributions.

“Melia, she does athletics, too,” Wilson said. “That’s always super helpful. She knows a bunch of people, so whenever we have freshmen we don’t know, she’s always one person who we know we can go to.

“And then Gracie is always super sweet all the time. There’s never been a time where I was literally being a psycho and Gracie wasn’t like, ‘OK, why don’t you take a breath.’”

The students dedicate a lot of their time to the yearbook. Hardesty explained how it’s not a one-way street.

“I have really bad social anxiety,” Hardesty said. “One reason I joined yearbook is to help me talk to people, to help with my social anxiety. When I go alone, I can’t, I just can’t do it, so I usually have Gracie come with me. I’ve been getting better at talking with people. It used to be really bad for me talking to people, but I’ve gotten better at it ever since I joined.”

Added Kish: “I get to meet new people and interview different people. I go with her sometimes and interview the basketball players during SRT and it’s fun. I have a little bit of social anxiety as well. Being with Payton has helped me.”

Both students have learned that some subjects are easier to interview than others. “I don’t know if we ever got Tyler Parrish, but he would always run away from us because he didn’t want to be interviewed,” Kish said of the basketball star.

Hardesty said that when she joined she figured the extent of becoming better at communicating would be limited to interacting with other staffers.

“Journalism, arts, photography, it has all the things I like, so I thought it would be easy,” Hardesty said. “No. Not easy. I was so confused the first week. I didn’t know we had to interview people. I thought we’d put some pictures in a book and call it a day.”

Putting pictures in a book is part of it. Every student, freshman through senior, has a portrait in the book, provided they showed up for the shoot. If they didn’t, the staff keeps what they call a “ghost list” and tries to hunt down the students to snap their photos so that their faces appear elsewhere.

Not only that, the goal is to try to get 50% of the students in the book three times in three different ways. One is a photo.

“Then we try to figure them with a quote, something they’re saying, and then something that they’re doing,” Jendrzejczyk said.

Since Mrs. J. has overseen Singing Sands, the cost of the same handful of items has been tracked on an annual basis and appears in the book. For example, the 2023 book shows the price of a McDonald’s Happy Meal as $3.99, compared to $6.59 in 2024.

The theme for this year’s book is “Netflix,” replete with splashy colors, windows with what’s trending, and windows that call to mind Netflix pointing viewers who watched one program to check out others of a similar type with the phrase “you might also like.”

Marlee Wilson explained how she came up with the theme.

“I started thinking about themes last year,” she said. “I saw a TikTok that had a Netflix-themed book, and then one of the girls I used to play lacrosse with sent me that same TikTok, and then Riley sent me the TikTok and I was like, that’s a sign: Netflix. I had other ideas, but we all liked Netflix the best.”

Wilson said she thinks this book will be the best of the three capturing her time in high school thus far.

“Everyone likes Netflix,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, everyone will like the book.”