It's that time, when seniors from Florida high schools hustle to finish exams, attend senior breakfasts and grad nights, and don their caps and gowns. Pinellas County public school seniors begin collecting their diplomas on Friday when Palm Harbor University High School graduates its Class of 2011.
This year, however, one of the oldest high school traditions got a new digital twist in Pinellas: yearbooks with barcodes linking to a video memory.
St. Petersburg High School is among the first in the Tampa Bay Area to use QR, or quick response, codes, said Steve Ferguson, a representative of yearbook publisher Balfour. (A Broward County school is also using the codes.)
Smartphone users can download a free application that reads the code, which takes them to a website with more school highlights.
"This really advances our yearbook and sets it apart from all other yearbooks," said Kellam Davis, a St. Petersburg High junior who's on the yearbook staff.
In the case of St. Petersburg High, the QR code will link to a video highlighting important world events of 2010-11 because there was no time to put together a school video. Next year, yearbook staffers will be producing their own content for these codes.
Ferguson called it the "perfect marriage" between digital technology and old-school printing. Originally used to track car parts in manufacturing, QR codes have now become a social media tool used on advertisements, video games, books, and even in cemeteries.
Teachers and students say the codes could help jazz up slumping yearbook sales and allow more content to be included in the book even after it's printed.
March deadlines for submitting yearbook drafts to the publisher means events such as proms, spring sports and graduations are excluded from the books, said Donna Smith, yearbook adviser at St. Petersburg High.
The codes can be generated at any time, and content — photos and videos — can be uploaded on a website later, Ferguson said.
The company hopes to expand to more Pinellas schools next year as well as other Florida schools, including those in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando.
"We've been very excited about it," said Deborah Pettingill, yearbook adviser at Largo High. "I like the option to be able to add content without additional cost. We have had to cut down the size of the yearbook because of cost, but now we can add things without additional printing costs."
Though the staff at Largo High was unable to add the codes to the yearbook this year, Pettingill said the staff added a flier in the book with a sample of the code.
"We are already doing preorders for next year's yearbook," she said.
At St. Petersburg High, students have been using their iPhones since the yearbooks were handed out last week to check out the new QR codes, said senior Abby Nickens, the yearbook's co-editor. Her father works for the St. Petersburg Times. "It's such a new idea, but once you tell them what it is, they think it is really cool and they try it," she said.