The Berkeley High Pandemic Yearbook is a time capsule of a historic year

Sarah Darzacq, 16, browses Berkeley High’s 2020-21 yearbook, stopping at her favorite broadcast showcasing student art. Credit: Ally Markovich

After school, four teenagers sat behind a table littered with stacks of green directories. “The Berkeley High Handbook” is engraved on each cover with silver lettering, a reference to the chosen theme – documenting how students got through the 2020-21 school year.

“Did we really make it out? I do not know,” Sarah Darzacq, who is now the sports editor of the directory, is only half joking.

Members of the Berkeley High directory staff pose with Genevieve Mage, the club’s advisor. Keizo Ono, Nehemiah Stevenson, Noemi Buenrostro-Perez, Kaya Dixon, Evelyn Ruiz, Nayezca Guzzman-Jubb and Genevieve Mage. Credit: Berkeley High Directory

When the editorial staff started selling directories last week, students were surprised that there was a proper directory. The days had dragged on without end, but the school year passed in a blur of Zoom screens and text messages with friends. Did all of this really happen?

“People did not realize that we were preparing a directory. They were like, ‘Sarah, in what year?’ ”Said Darzacq.

The book is about 60 pages thinner, missing many customary traditions that have been reduced to virtual events or lost altogether. The pandemic has left the team of photographers and editors scrambling to commemorate a year that is both pivotal and endlessly monotonous.

The challenge seemed insurmountable, “[b]But after countless exchanges of emails, Instagram posts and dms, we got enough content to fill the minimum number of pages we needed to publish this directory, ”the editors wrote. last year in a letter published in the directory.

There are pages devoted to the Black Lives Matter protests and the election of Joe Biden. On one page, a student describes what it was like to lose her mother to COVID-19. In another, smiling photos of students in black ties commemorate an informal “ball” hosted by the students. There are pages devoted to mental health and others to recipes that students developed during their forties. The result is a memorial to a pandemic year marked both by life at home and by life changing events.

“It is difficult to show something that is not there”

Yearbook, which is taught in class at Berkeley High, begins each fall with a team of about 20 students. But last year, their task seemed impossible. None of their usual avenues were available for photographing: no sports to photograph, no silly outfits during Spirit Week, no chance of surprising classmates by breaking into classrooms.

“We’re struggling to find a way to document in a respectable way this year,” Genevieve Mage, the yearbook teacher who advises staff, told Berkeleyside in March.

Sarah Darzacq browses the pandemic directory. Credit: Ally Markovich

The staff didn’t want a directory full of Zoom screenshots, but neither did they want to give the illusion that the year was normal.

“Nothing was happening. How do you show this in a directory? Said Darzacq. “We tried to find bits and pieces of things that happened, but it feels like it was just a regular year. It’s hard to show something that isn’t there.

On page six of the yearbook is a giant Zoom screen, but grainy images of student chefs attending classes from their rooms are replaced by smiling photos: a student getting vaccinated, another volunteer at the Berkeley Food Pantry , a group of friends wearing masks and dancing.

A bird’s eye view of the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble. Credit: Berkeley High Directory

In April, high school students started returning to campus for blended learning, the school was finally buzzing with student voices in the hallways. Staff photographers hoped that meant they could finally document student life. There is a photo of Mage and Tiffany Sutherland, an assistant in the counseling program, playing combat with the 6-foot-long sticks the school gave them to measure the seats in their classrooms. Another image shows a bird’s eye view of the 2021 Jazz Ensemble, with students playing brass instruments standing 6 feet apart.

But less than half of Berkeley High’s students returned to campus for their few hours a week, and many activities were still on hiatus. It became clear that students would not be able to take many live photos – even sports teams had shut down training to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Darzacq said.

Photos of an informal ball organized by the students. Credit: Berkeley High Directory

So they started collecting. Instead of watching a dance performance, they took Zoom screenshots of a virtual performance. They messaged their friends on Instagram, painstakingly gathering permission to share photos. Sometimes they’ve heard from them, and sometimes they haven’t. In the end, they had so many missing senior portraits that they added a student list, so there would be a record of each senior graduate. Over the last few months of the school year, they’ve amassed enough content to produce a yearbook that they believe represents student experiences.

In a new section on mental health, the yearbook pays tribute to student struggles. “It’s just difficult when everything is the same, like you sit at the computer all day and then hand in your homework, and it’s the same process over and over again, ”says one senior. But, everything has an advantage: “The close friendships the students had in March 2020 seemed to have grown stronger,” wrote one editor.

The directory also contains some other new features. Because the yearbook was published this fall, the students took snapshots of the senior dare party (a message from the winning team: “We want to thank our mothers, our spreadsheet, our razors and our ranch.” ) and “bal. Instead of Spirit Week, Darzacq hosted a digital art collection produced by students last year, combining photography and poetry, a section that contains his favorite pages from the yearbook.

Then there was the challenge of documenting the policy. The students at Berkeley High are famous for their militant streak, but as the world around them swirled, teenage lives came to a standstill.

“I felt like there was so much going on in the world and yet there wasn’t much going on at school,” Darzacq explained.

The yearbook declares that the election of Joe Biden (and the defeat of Donald Trump) is “the most important election of our lives.” Two pages on climate change recognize the growing urgency of the problem and the difficulty of getting out and protesting during a pandemic. In short interviews, black teachers and students reflect on what the Summer 2020 Black Lives Matter movement meant to them, and offer advice to students who want to do more.

Ultimately, staff hope the directory is a time capsule for a historic year.

“What we have been through is something that will be talked about for decades and that will live with us the longest,” write the editors in their letter on one of the last pages of the yearbook.

The yearbook ends triumphantly: “Dear Reader, Congratulations. You have gone through a year of the unthinkable.