Ingi Zaki only took a course in Web design because her father told her to. She was a junior in the Web Design class at Winston Churchill High School last year, and her reluctance faded as she saw how Churchill’s Web site (www.churchillhs.org) was designed and maintained. This was something more and more people in the community were beginning to count on.
“[I saw that] people were looking at it and they needed the information,” said Zaki, now a senior. “Then I got interested in it.”
Churchill launched its new Web site on Monday, Feb. 6. Behind the site’s new look and content is a team of 24 students on a project like none other in Montgomery County’s public schools. This was primarily a student endeavor.
“We had to change everything,” said senior Jon April, one of the Churchill Webmasters. “I found it interesting seeing the whole thing together. … Each of us had a little part, and when you look at the whole product, it’s pretty amazing.”
CHURCHILL’S SITE all but screamed for an overhaul when Kimmie Edwards started teaching in Churchill’s computer science department five years ago. Laura Hennessy, then an assistant principal, gave a presentation of the school site. It was then mostly the work of two students who had technical savvy and the initiative to take on the task, but without a realistic sense of their limits. There were broken links and misspellings galore.
It wasn’t just locals who would see this. “There are people out of the country who are looking at our Web site,” Edwards said. Families who are considering moving to Potomac are likely to give the site a look, too. “They want to see what kind of school they’re going to.”
Since that year, Edwards has overseen three overhauls in Churchill’s site. Students participated in all three revisions, but it has become a more formalized procedure in the last two years. All of this year’s Churchill Webmasters take Edwards’ Guided Research computer science course, an invitation-only class for students who have already completed a Computer Applications class.
In Guided Research, the students learn more advanced features in Web design, and become part of the Webmasters group.
THE NEWEST VERSION of the Churchill site contains both structural and visual changes, some of which were a long time in coming, Edwards said.
The school mascot is now more authentic. “We definitely wanted to include the bulldog,” Edwards said. In this version, though, the team moved away from the cartoon clip-art bulldog that once dominated the site, opting instead for photos of the bulldog sculpture at the front of the school.
The new color scheme is a shade away from Churchill’s precise school colors of royal blue and Kelly green. “Those [original colors] aren’t very easy on the eyes on the Web site,” Edwards said.
In fact, that’s part of Edwards’ challenge — some design conventions students use on their blogs or personal Myspace/Facebook sites aren’t going to fly when they’re producing their school’s official site.
“We run it sort of like a business,” Edwards said. It’s also comparable to Churchill’s more traditional, long-standing publications like The Observer (student newspaper), Finest Hours (yearbook) or Erehwon (literary journal). Like the hard-copy publications have overall leaders and section editors, every student Webmaster has a specified position and task with the site.
Seniors Seth Dubin and Jon April work on Churchill’s Athletics pages, where each student is responsible for designing the page for one sport, then keeping the page updated with team scores and results.
CYBERSPACE REMAINS somewhat of a frontier for county schools. There’s little in the way of protocol for schools in maintaining their official sites — surfing through Montgomery County’s 25 high school sites quickly shows they’re not all created equal. There is vast discrepancy in terms of the scope, appearance and maintenance consistency of the school sites.
The same is true of Web design curriculum. Only two other public high schools in the county — Watkins Mill and Quince Orchard — offer equivalent courses in Web design, said Edwards, and Churchill is the only school that deploys a full class of students to maintain the school’s official site.
Each year, Edwards writes the Guided Research curriculum herself; she rewrites it each year when, inevitably, technological changes dictate it.
Edwards is self-taught in Web design, which is typical for those who attended college in the 1990s. She graduated from Frostburg State in 1998, when students’ only computer-related major options were computer science or graphic design.
That’s changing on the college level, though. Many current Churchill students will have the option to major in Web design when they’re in college.
LAST WEEK, the Webmasters put finishing touches of some of the new site’s more ambitious features. Foremost among them is a virtual school tour that includes every single room in the building.
“That took us forever. Every single class, we took a picture of it,” said Zaki, who was part of the project.
“I didn’t know we had so many teachers, so many rooms — it blew my mind,” said senior Mollie Wolfe, who also worked on the virtual map.
Wolfe is one of the students who is interested in sticking with Web design for the long haul. Some of her friends in a rock band have asked for her help in designing a site. “I would love to continue that,” she said, and the Churchill site is a good example of the group effort. “We’re really proud of it, and I think I think it looks really professional.”