By Beth Donze
In the uncertain months following Hurricane Katrina, Kathleen Calder was reminded of the powerful role yearbooks played in the lives of students who had long since graduated.
Alumni of De La Salle began contacting Calder – then the high school’s longtime yearbook advisor – in search of yearbooks to replace those lost in their flooded homes.
“I had adult men crying because they were able to get their senior yearbook back,” Calder recalled. “Fortunately, my archives were up high and we didn’t get water at De La Salle – so I could replace those books.”
While Calder’s 33 years at De La Salle included the production of 25 yearbooks that garnered numerous state, regional and national awards, Calder was especially proud to learn that the 2017 yearbook she had produced for her elementary school alma mater of St. Francis Xavier had earned the prestigious “First Class” rating from the National Scholastic Press Association.
Said the judges of “Jaguar Tales,” St. Francis Xavier’s 60-page yearbook: “This is an awesome little yearbook that delivers big content. The coverage of your school is quite strong, both verbally and visually.”
“Few middle schools in the area compete at this level. For us to get a ‘First Class’ rating on our first try is unheard of!” said Calder, 71.
Judges looked for excellence in writing, editing, photography and design. Special yearbook touches brought by Calder include placing the photos of homeroom teachers atop the traditional rows of student headshots and filling the pages with eye-catching photo collages and interesting explanatory text.
Calder devoted the yearbook’s opening pages to a historical overview of the Old Metairie school, which was marking its 90th anniversary. Popular historical features include a chronological series of headshots of St. Francis Xavier’s 15 principals. Calder said putting them side by side is a striking reminder that the first 11 principals were all Sisters of Mercy.
“A lot of our students are second- and third-generation students, so I knew their parents and their grandparents would say, ‘Oh! I remember Sister Nicholas! I remember Sister Cecilia!’” Calder said.
Calder said she made a special effort to take photos of current students with their grandparents on Grandparents’ Day, knowing that she had very few childhood photos of herself with her own grandparents.
“Years from now they can look back and say, ‘Look! My grandmother came to school for Grandparents’ Day!’ or ‘My grandfather was there for the Teddy Bear Breakfast,’” she said.
Showing that same respect for history, while researching the roots of St. Francis Xavier’s Boy Scout Troop 70, Calder learned that the troop was established by Father William Hewson, associate pastor, in 1943 – smack in the middle of World War II.
“Some of the students’ fathers were overseas fighting, and Father Hewson wanted the boys to have a father figure (through scouting),” she notes.
Calder, who retired from De La Salle in 2013, also served as a high school advisor. Production of “The Maroon Legend,” De La Salle’s yearbook, was treated as an elective that prepared students for real-world interactions beyond their Uptown campus. Calder taught her staff photography, layout, the different skills involved in writing body copy, headlines and captions, and the art of the interview.
“(Being on a yearbook staff) strengthens students’ English skills; it strengthens being able to talk to some-body and pull information out of them,” Calder said.
“We used to joke at De La Salle that to get a good quote out of eighth graders, you had to take a spoon and dig it out!” Calder said, proudly noting that several of her students went on to become professional journalists.
A banner year for De La Salle’s yearbook was 2010, in which it received first-place honors from the National Scholastic Press Association and a silver medal from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.
“There is satisfaction in watching the kids improve their skills and improve their level of self-confidence – seeing kids who were (initially) terrified of the thought of talking to somebody, who by the end of the year could go to an administrator and get a quote,” Calder said.
Before being recruited by principal Barbara Martin to oversee St. Francis Xavier’s school yearbook, Calder was already creating a buzz at her lifetime parish by shepherding a 32-page book chronicling the parish’s own 90-history.
When it came to the school’s yearbook, Calder was determined to have it reflect the motto of “Faith, Family and Future” by showcasing school events related to All Saints’ Day, Ash Wednesday, the Stations of the Cross, the Living Nativity, choir and the school’s numerous academic, art and service projects.
“There were so many things like that that were just not being covered (previously),” said Calder, who is currently working on the school’s 2018 yearbook.
Calder said she would love to create a yearbook elective at St. Francis Xavier like the one she set up at De La Salle; but for the time being, a handful of students are helping her with basic tasks like helping to identify schoolmates in photo captions and taking photos at events Calder is unable to attend.
Otherwise, it is Calder with her camera around her neck, strolling around campus for yearbook content – a sight that used to rattle students. Now Calder has kids jockeying to be photographed.
“I walk through the cafeteria now and they say, ‘You got the camera? Take my picture! Take my picture!’” she said.