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Classrooms: Northampton’s teachers, students build its website

  • Jeromie Whalen, the technology teacher at Northampton High School works with Gabe Sussman, 16, in an after-school meeting for the school’s communications and media production course. Whalen, Sussman and other students have created a new website for the school district. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jeromie Whalen, the technology teacher at Northampton High School works with Gabe Sussman, 16, in an after-school meeting for the school’s communications and media production course. Whalen, Sussman and other students have created a new website for the school district. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jeromie Whalen, the technology teacher at Northampton High School, works with Gabe Sussman, 16, in an after-school meeting for the school’s communications and media production course. Whalen, Sussman and other students have created a new website for the school district.

  • The Northampton school district launched a new website in the recent weeks, one designed by a technology teacher and students at Northampton High School. This screen shot shows the website’s home page Monday afternoon. The design has drawn the attention of other school districts, with Superintendent John Provost saying he’s received calls from colleagues wondering which vendor the district hired to do the work.

  • —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@dustyc123
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Northampton’s school district has a new website, and Superintendent John Provost says it looks so sharp that other superintendents are calling him to ask if he could put them in touch with the “vendor” that designed the new site.

Here’s the rub — there is no vendor.

“I’ve found many of our colleagues to be quite surprised when they hear our vendor is our teachers and students,” Provost said with a chuckle.

The district’s crisp new landing page began as Northampton High School technology teacher Jeromie Whalen’s idea for a master’s degree project, and soon involved other teachers and students as the new website replaced an older one that Whalen says the community wasn’t really engaging with.

“It gives you a space you can go very easily to find your child’s school, and then find those other spaces that the staff and faculty are using to educate the kids,” said Molly McLoughlin, the district’s digital literacy and computer science coordinator, who joined the project at its early stages. “It’s much more interactive instead of static.”

The website operates not only as the central clearinghouse for district-related information, but also as a teaching tool for students wanting to learn how to operate a content management system, or CMS — the back-end application that is used to manage a website and its digital content.

Whalen began thinking about ways to integrate technology in the district during his graduate program in the learning, media and technology program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He and others in the district had brief meetings on the subject in the winter, Whalen said, but the real work began in the spring with a needs assessment.

“What does our community want?” Whalen said the team asked people across the district. “What does our faculty look for when using the site? What do students want on the site?”

McLoughlin and Whalen met weekly to talk about what design features they wanted to see, and in May and June the initial stages of development and design began.

“From there, it was spending time just plugging away,” McLoughlin said.

The site officially went live on Oct. 12 after a soft launch, during which administrators and faculty could provide feedback, and the team could tweak things that needed fixing. That tweaking process is still in the works, too.

Previously, the district’s site had just one administrator. Now, a simple contact form on the site allows users to send McLoughlin and Whalen questions, possible website bugs and other information, which they can then work with students to resolve.

Junior Gabe Sussman is one of the students who has been learning to update and modify the website since its launch. One day last week, he and a handful of other students gathered in Whalen’s classroom after school as part of a meeting for the school’s communications and media production course.

Sussman’s interest in computers began, he said, by first building a computer for his dad during his freshman year, then another for his brother the next year. He decided to get a job at McDonald’s after that, so that he could afford to build himself a computer. His older brother studied computer science at Northeastern University, and Sussman wants to follow in his footsteps.

“As far as websites go, this is definitely the first,” he said when asked if his computer hobby had ever led him to this kind of work before.

Sussman has caught on quickly, Whalen said, even designing most of the athletics page of the website entirely himself.

“I spent like three days doing this,” he said, showing off a collapsible, organized list of directions to every local school’s sports facilities. That list took a lot of trial and error, he said, and he eventually taught Whalen what it was that he did to set it up.

Another student has also been involved in the website’s early operations — Maddie Sellers, who helped move metadata over from the old website. The group of students is small while the team works out security protocols, but Whalen is excited to fold more students and faculty into the project.

“Managing the district website, it takes a certain amount of maturity and responsibility,” Whalen said, looking on as Sussman worked on organizing a subpage on the site.

The 30-year-old Whalen became interested in technology much the same way as Sussman. When he was a kid, his neighbor worked for IBM. Whalen and his dad created a computer together in that neighbor’s garage. To be able to pass that same passion to other students excites him, he said.

There will be a large chance to do just that when the high school hosts a “boot camp” on Nov. 28 from 4 to 6 p.m., when students will be trained to do work on websites like the district’s. That workshop is funded through a $1,200 grant from the Northampton Education Foundation.

That extra help will be needed, as more people begin to engage with the website, Whalen said. The high school’s art department has already inquired about setting up their own subpage to display their work, and that interest is growing.

“Now we actually have Google Analytics embedded into our site, so we can actually see what the demographics of users are who frequent our site, what they’re looking at,” Whalen said. “The work doesn’t stop at the design. It’s a constantly evolving process to meet the needs of our community.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.