Simmons Career Center is a little different than most traditional high schools. Simmons is for students who want to learn a trade and get out of school as quickly as possible. Eligible students are at least a year behind and in jeopardy of dropping out of school. Unfortunately, for a majority of our students, poor success in school has also led to other destructive behavior outside of school. Like many other schools, we have gang members, students with criminal records, and students who struggle with poverty. Students who are able to manage their personal challenges and reach the Web Design IV class are required to do a project based exit activity to complete the program. The students act as a web design firm and work with a real client from start to finish. The guidance counselor referred a woman from a non‐profit agency called Advocates for a Safer Community to be our real life example. Before long, we found ourselves learning a lot about choices in life.
A tall slender woman came into the conference room where the students were all seated. We all stood and introduced ourselves and began by discussing how the web site should look and feel. Mrs. Saunders began to pull out news articles and pictures from her bag and spread them across the table. Each article and photo represented a young person who was murdered within the city limits of Tampa, Florida. Case by case, the students, by their own accord, began reading the articles and looking at the pictures. The students very quickly realized their project would have a significant impact on others’ lives. From that very first meeting, our students began to feel really needed.
Mrs. Saunders pulled out a picture and began to tell us how “he didn’t like getting his picture taken, so that was the best she could find”. One student asked, “Who is he?” She replied, “My son”. Mrs. Saunders started the organization after her son was murdered while waiting outside for a friend to come out and play. Mrs. Saunders pulled out another photo of her son. She said,” I like this one because he was not wearing a hat.” I could actually see and feel a change as my students empathized with this complete stranger and accepted her burden as their own.
The meeting was over and the students brought the notes back to the classroom. We began to discuss and build low level storyboards on roll paper. A couple of the students began to get nervous about doing such an important project, but we kept them on it anyway. Everyone agreed the pictures of the victims needed to be improved in Photoshop to make the faces larger and easier to see. We decided to create a Flash file that would have the mission and information in a center box with thumbnail images of all the victims presented. The students wanted every victim to be equally as important on the home page. As the user moved the mouse over the thumbnails, the center would change to a larger picture of the victim. We also included the name, the date of their death, and whenever possible, a word that family and friends used to describe the victim. There were links included to get more information about each case.
Now the hard part, there were nearly three hundred cases. Students began the tedious task of scanning pictures and recreating articles to build the Flash file and sub‐pages. One might think, or at least I did, that the students would eventually return to being unmotivated and lazy, with poor attendance and off task behavior. The opposite was true; the students were giving up their lunch, coming in early, and
finishing work in their other classes so they could work on the website. The seniors’ last day was fast approaching and the students were feeling the crunch. I offered to finish the project so they could enjoy some of the senior events and the last couple of days with their friends and none of my students would accept my offer. The last day for seniors came and there were still some finishing touches we needed to do. The seniors showed up to school as volunteers and worked on the project. When we sat with Mrs. Saunders to review and get her feedback, she was very surprised. One of our students even used Photoshop to edit the picture of Mrs. Saunders’ son. The student removed the hat and re‐created her son’s hair and features from the other photo where he was not wearing a hat.
In nine years of teaching, I have never seen dedication like my students gave to this project. What made the outcome even better were the conversations the students had with each other while working. These students discussed choices, their future and options for themselves. Nine weeks earlier, these same students were talking about who fought whom and their crazy weekends. No one could have predicted that a project used to teach Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop could actually change my students’ lives.
Technology Resource Teacher
Simmons Career Center