Students in Ceil Jensen’s “WebMaster School” class at Adams High School in Rochester Hills, Mich., may have an edge on their classmates come graduation. The students are using their creativity to design and build web pages for local businesses on a per-fee basis.

Now in its third year, “WebMaster School” began as a school-to-work project with a grant from North Oakland County. Jensen, a fine arts and history teacher, came up with the project as a way for creative, visual students to learn technology.

Students work in teams of four, and each student assumes control of one aspect of the project–content editor, graphics designer, business manager, or technician–though each learns the responsibilities of all four roles.

The class meets five hours per week in a computer lab with 30 workstations equipped with internet access, web page design, and desktop publishing software. Students also have access to scanning equipment, digital cameras, Microsoft Front Page, and Adobe Photoshop.

Under Jensen’s guidance, the students solicit business through the Rochester Hills Chamber of Commerce, which Jensen said was instrumental in helping her launch the project. One of the students’ clients this year is the Michigan chapter of the American Association of University Women, for example, and past clients have included General Motors Corp.

For a $500 fee, students design, build, and maintain a business’ web site for one year. The money helps cover the cost of the software, supplies, and server space, Jensen said.

Periodically throughout the year, the clients visit the school to meet with their student webmasters and discuss elements of the site design–so students are learning not only artistic design and technology skills, Jensen said, but professional and interpersonal skills as well.

A model program

In July, Jensen and about 15 students traveled to Chicago to attend Web Fair ’98, a trade show sponsored by the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW). They were invited to attend by Bill Cullifer, WOW’s executive director, who had learned of WebMaster School through a listserv.

“What’s amazing is that, on her own, [Jensen] has put together a class that addresses all three areas we’ve come to recognize as essential for web designers: technical skills, content management, and business skills.”

Thanks to their meeting at Web Fair, Cullifer plans to introduce Jensen and her program later this year to schools around the country. The two will present WebMaster School at the Classroom Connect conference in Anaheim Nov. 11, 1998.

The course can be replicated easily, Jensen said, because it is flexible enough to fit the curriculum of several different departments. It could even be run as a multiple disciplinary project, she said–such as a joint collaboration among journalism, business, and technology classes.

Kendra Waldrep, a WebMaster School student who designed a web site for The Sanctuary, a local shelter for runaway teens, said the class has opened a new career path for her. Once she enrolled in the WebMaster class, “the whole computer world opened up for me.”

For Michael Coury, who is taking the course this fall, the program offers real-world business experience. “Fortunately, the companies [who hire us] are willing to give us a chance, put up with our mistakes and let us wet our feet in the real world,” he said.

“One of my students came to me last year and said, ‘WebMaster School has given me responsibility and leadership that I’ve never had before,'” Jensen said. “That’s just what we’d want from a school-to-work project.”

WebMaster School

World Organization of Webmasters