When the end of a school year rolls around, the high school yearbook committee always has a lot on their plate.
For the committee who put out the annual editorial for Colorado’s Conifer High School, though, a very special project added an extra 1,500 hours to their typical workload—all in the name of inclusion and kindness.
The Conifer yearbook committee dubbed the Class of 2019s book “More Than Meets The Eye.” It’s a fairly typical-sounding name for a yearbook but served to answer a question asked four years before the 2019 graduates ever walked across the stage—and say that yes, the committee could put together a yearbook that even a blind senior could read.
— CBSDenver (@CBSDenver) May 4, 2019
The idea for the special project was first planted in 2015, when incoming freshman Randy “RJ” Sampson—who is legally blind—jokingly asked teacher and yearbook advisor Leslie Thompson if the school was able to make him an adaptive copy as well. He had never bothered to order a yearbook before, because the small print was impossible for him to make out.
“He asked her kind of jokingly, ‘Are you going to make me a braille yearbook?’” said yearbook editor-in-chief Laurel Ainsworth.
Ainsworth and Thompson went into the project unsure of just how much time it would take. They got started early, drafting their first plans for an adaptive yearbook in April of 2018 in order to ensure Sampson’s yearbook would be ready in time.
They ended up knocking it out of the park. To start, the yearbook boasts Braille pages, which make it possible for Sampson to read the text that had previously been too small for him to properly make out. Ainsworth and Thompson went a step above and beyond that, though, and even added a special software to the production that enables Sampson to hear recordings and view larger pictures when a smartphone with an app is held over certain pages.
“It just made the book completely accessible for him so he can enjoy it just as much as the rest of the students,” Ainsworth said.
Sampson had no idea that anyone had remembered that first request he made freshman year, so the committee decided to keep it a secret. And when the school gathered in the gym to hand out yearbooks and partake in an annual “Rite-of-Passage” tradition, they surprised him with his unique copy—and got a chance to let him share in the joy of finally getting a yearbook he could read with the rest of his graduating class.
The yearbook staff at Colorado’s Conifer High School was buzzing with nervous excitement last week.
“I’m really happy I was able to do with my friends,” he explained to Denver’s CBS Local after finishing the “Rite of Passage” with his classmates. “It’s absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to read it.”
Sampson is headed to CU Boulder in the fall to major in computer engineering. And although he won’t be going far, the fact that he’ll be able to head to school with all of the fond memories he made senior year right at his fingertips—quite literally—is something that he doesn’t take for granted.
“The best part of my senior year was being able to enjoy it with my friends, I’m going to miss them,” he said. “I think it’s really important to be able to continue through life and improve yourself as a person.”