KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Everyone has a unique experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. The students in yearbook class at Hardin Valley Academy are looking back at how they covered the pandemic since its start which would ultimately change their high school experience forever.

“We have not had a normal year yet that I’ve been making a yearbook,” said Allison Harris, who took over teaching Hardin Valley Academy’s yearbook class in 2019. She said she and her students would have never anticipated what would lie ahead.

“I had to get special permission to come back into the school so that I could go around to all the computers and download all the pictures and upload them to Google because that was the only way I could get them home,” explained Harris.

Her students also had to adjust.

“I got really comfortable with doing yearbook stuff,” senior Alyssa Goldmann said. “Then the second year rolled around, and then the pandemic happened, and then it got really hard because we went virtual.”

Over the last couple of years since the start of the pandemic, Goldmann and her fellow senior yearbook classmate Alex Valentine have moved on to become editors of the yearbook. The pair spoke about how they’ve been able to use their yearbook as a sort of time capsule to tell their school’s story of the pandemic.

“This is our COVID-19 spread that we had in our ‘Visionary’ book when the whole school shut down and we just basically explained all the dates that occurred,” Goldmann said of their 2019-2020 school yearbook. “Like when we ran out of toilet paper, when the whole school shut down, when we went virtual and then the mask mandate happened.”

Valentine explained the pandemic vocabulary added to that yearbook. It included words that were new at the time of publication, but that the entire world would learn quickly.

“Obviously, like main ones, like ‘social distancing’ and ‘quarantine’ are added in there because that’s all the words that started being thrown around and no one really knew what was going on so,” Valentine said.

Covering sports and activities was another challenge that year, considering many teams and clubs barely could have a season.

“Luckily, we had one game we could take photos of cause if not we would have to think of a whole new spread, sometimes we had to do that,” said Goldmann of covering the school’s baseball team in the 2019-2020 yearbook.

Valentine explained parts of the yearbook were made up of lists instead of group photos because the opportunity never came back around to take photos once the school went virtual.

“Kind of hard to make a yearbook when you don’t have pictures,” Valentine said.

As they returned to school in the fall of 2020, there were a new set of challenges.

“It was kind of hard because sometimes they wouldn’t let us into events because you can’t be on the football field when it’s like COVID season,” explained Goldmann. “It was very hard to identify people because you don’t know who they are, and you can’t see who they are under the mask.”

Moving into the creation of that school year’s yearbook, they focused on the positive, titling it ‘Thrive.’ Goldmann and Valentine say they saw it as an opportunity to show off how their classmates thrived during the drastic changes, they, and other high schoolers across the nation, were going through.

They created spreads about hair trends during quarantine, Q & A sections about what people did during their time virtually learning, and even talked about how different activities changed because of new COVID guidelines.

“We had a graduation spread where they walked down Hardin Valley Road and they got to see pictures from that that we took,” Valentine said.

“The musical happened, but everyone was wearing a mask, so the book is filled with kids in masks, which is a weird thing to look at,” added Harris.

It’s something they hope gave their classmates a chance to feel seen in a year where so much was different.

“I think it was just really nice for everyone to have that sort of closure on the year,” Valentine said.

And as students may graduate onto other endeavors, Ms. Harris knows just how vital these books will be down the road.

“Kids, they don’t necessarily grasp the importance of them in the moment because they are so digital and they’re documenting their lives every day on Instagram and whatever,” Harris said. “It just gives you something to look at and point to with your kids, your grandkids, 50-years from now so you can say, ‘This is what it looked like at school that year.’”