When life as we knew it ended back in March, Karen Santos was just starting the busiest time of her school year as faculty advisor for the Bedford High School yearbook, The Buccaneer.
Suddenly, the school was closed, and shortly afterward she received word from Susan Happel, agent and colleague, representing the Herff-Jones Printing Company which publishes the BHS yearbook, that production had been stopped. Some advisors might have thrown in the towel in the face of all that uncertainty and simply said “no book this year.” Santos had no such thoughts.
Karen Smart Santos, BHS Class of 1976 is married to Dan Santos, BHS class of 1972. She has lived in Bedford all her life and has seen three of her own children Sheena (Class of 2002), Ryan (Class of 2004), and Anthony (Class of 2007) graduate from BHS. Santos became a school department employee when her children were young and she was looking for a job that matched up with their school schedule. She worked in the Davis, Lane, and BHS cafeterias as her youngsters progressed through the system. In 2002, she was approached by French teacher Denise Rainas to fill a position in the then-new language lab at the high school. The need was for someone to organize, encode, and assist teachers and students using the innovative resource. “I had to teach myself everything, but I loved every minute.”
Once Santos adjusted to her new position as an educational assistant, she decided to also take on another job as a yearbook advisor. During her first year, she split the yearbook work with language teacher Angela Allen who had done it for some years. When Allen retired the following year, Santos took on the commitment alone and has been doing it for 13 years. Seniors are invited to help; some do and are quite enthusiastic, but inevitably as the year progresses their focus shifts to college applications and work plans for after graduation. Santos, working closely with Happel as the local representative of Herff-Jones, pulls it over the finish line by successfully dealing with a myriad of last-minute decisions, revisions, and submissions. The goal is to have the yearbook ready for distribution one week before the last day of school for seniors. Undergraduates receive their books a week or so later.
Typically, spring is filled with events of particular importance to seniors: the annual musical, sports competitions and recognitions, proms, the Tenacity Challenge, and the very popular Senior Fashion Show. Each event is photographed and written about – but not this year. “I sent word out to the kids: send me whatever you’ve got. I was already starting to think about next year and looking in particular for photos of students in junior prom dresses or tuxes taken despite the fact that there was no prom. These photos will be earmarked for the Class of 2021 yearbook.”
“Even with all the social media,” Santos said, “there’s still something about a yearbook in your hand. I wanted the kids in this class to still have that, no matter what.” Once the photos are received, Santos decides on the layout and presentation. Now an old-hand at the process, she is always on the look-out for new ideas and spends many hours perusing yearbook samples from schools around the country looking for new ideas and perspectives.
At one point, Santos had a dedicated space for this work including the use of digital smart boards and computers. This allowed seniors wanting to participate to experiment and collaborate. “Good space drives student involvement,” she noted. Unfortunately, the demand for space for other needs at the high school has forced the yearbook operation into an entirely on-line mode. “I log those interested in participating onto the website where the book is being constructed. They can use computers in the language lab or computers they have at home. They have access to the pages they want to work on and then I review what they have done.”
Despite the many setbacks imposed by the pandemic, Santos was successful in finishing the yearbook in time for it to be distributed in June. It was hoped that the books might be part of the package of materials and goodies that seniors received the day of the drive-by pick-up of caps and gowns, but they weren’t ready. When they did arrive, Santos discovered she would need to write a proposal to the Bedford Board of Health outlining how the books would be sanitized and distributed. “That was another last-minute surprise,” she said with a laugh, “but I got it done and we were able to give the books out on June 16.”
A tip of the hat/mortarboard to Santos who refused to allow Covid-19 to eliminate yet one more tradition of senior year. As the new school year looms with many uncertainties, it may be comforting to the Class of 2021 to know that their yearbook is already underway, under the steady hand of Karen Santos.
Correction, 07.15.2020: Karen Santos is married to Dan Santos, not Mike as originally written.