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VGJH student earns second in national competition

Kori Russell’s photograph won second place in the nationwide Jostens photo competition. Villa Grove high school students pull on a rope during a game of tug of war, during the 2022 homecoming. Photo by Kori Russell.

Villa Grove Junior High student Kori Russell earned second place in a nationwide photography contest run by Jostens.

The company provides merchandise for graduation, such as yearbooks, frames for diplomas, class rings and more.

“It was super exciting. I didn’t think I was going to win or that it was a big deal. I was just told to enter my photo,” said Russell.

Russel is an eighth-grade student who sometimes helps out in the yearbook class run by Brian Cordes. She’s been helping out since seventh grade, when started learning how to operate a digital camera.

“I’ve always liked photography. On my phone, when me and my mom go flower shopping, I take closeup pictures, it’s different on an actual camera but it’s awesome,” said Russell.

Besides closeup flower photography and yearbook, Kori also likes to take photos with her friends to keep memories of their joyful moments.

“I’m definitely the Facebook mom friend of the group. I’m always taking pictures of them and capturing the moment and the happy times of the picture. It says a lot and shows people what you’re doing. If I’m off on a field trip (…) I can show a picture and it makes it feel more personal.”

Kori said that she was able to earn second place because of the yearbook teacher, Brian Cordes.

“He’s really involved and super helpful anytime the girls need something. He always tries to find something to do. ‘Go take photo of softball, e-mail this person,’ He’s always on us about it. That’s why the yearbook is so good. We take our time and try and we love what we do. It’s so much fun,” said Russell.

Cordes said that the yearbook class is usually a high school class, but he also encourages the team to go out and have fun at events as well. During those times he finds help from

“There are a few junior high kids who will step up, and it can be scary to get out there. (…) She is very talented and has an eye for photography,” said Cordes. “She’s well rounded, so I’m looking forward to her photography skills, but also she has a good eye for design. I think she will do well on the business side as well.”

The yearbook students do all the work in the class. They create the page layout, design and place photos, get stories and information and even make a YouTube video for the senior class. They work with Adobe Suite, the widespread service for content creation, to create their product.

Of course, the yearbook isn’t cheap to make. The students work hard to fund the program with concessions and football programs. Cordes said he hopes to make the price more affordable in future years, even with inflation raising the prices. He said he was glad that the price only went up by $4 this year.

Cordes said that the Villa Grove yearbook has received awards in multiple categories in the past and is highly ranked for its school size. He believes his students can perform just as well as other schools with better funding or class sizes.

Jonathan Hanaway, the Jostens representative for central Illinois, presented the second-place award to Russell.

Hanaway said, “We’re very proud of Kori for the incredible artwork and also Brian, who runs an incredible program (…) I never have to worry about that crew. They always put together a really incredible yearbook.”

Hanaway added that the yearbook classes can help students get into a career with a steady need for photographers and other creative artists.

“One of the best things about being part of the yearbook is not just teaching lessons. It’s directly relatable to the workforce,” said Hanaway.

Russell said she has been thinking about photography as a career in the future, using her skills as a side gig when she goes to college.

“She gets to know that the photo she took is second to one and will cherish that for most of her life,” said Hanaway.

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