Preventing the “summer slide” with web design classes at A. Philip Randolph Career Academies

 In Classes

The “summer slide” is a popular term to describe how students often experience a decline in their academic progress when they take a break from their school routines over the summer. This slide is more prevalent in lower income families, who may not be able to afford many of the summer camp options that are available. One study cited by AT&T’s philanthropic initiative AT&T Aspire, which recently awarded the STEM2 Hub a $40,000 grant to expand STEM programs in Northeast Florida schools, found that about two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income 9th graders could be explained by summer learning loss over the course of their school careers.

How can we reverse this phenomenon from “summer slide” to “maintain the gains”? The STEM2 Hub was proud to partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Northeast Florida and Duval County Public Schools at A. Philip Randolph Career Academies last month to offer a web design course that would bridge this gap for a group of Jacksonville students.

Under the instruction of Janine Aleong, an information technology teacher at A. Philip Randolph, students learned about web planning, design topics, publications and market messaging. Many of the students were excited to learn they would be creating web sites and be able to share their work with their families.

The goal was for students to not only share evidence of their newfound knowledge with their families, but with future employers as well. After all, information technology is one of the City of Jacksonville’s seven targeted industries for economic development, and one of the leaders in this field, Web.com, is a founding corporate board member of STEM2 Hub.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans access the internet every day, and the students participating in the web design program at A. Philip Randolph asked themselves critical questions about the web content we consume. What makes a website functional and useable? What makes one page more aesthetically pleasing than another? To answer this question, students explored the intersection of art and technology by studying color theory and typography to plan their own websites.

They were tasked with creating individual and business websites during the class using a cloud-based web development platform. There was a strong emphasis on collaboration, with the expectation that students lean on each other to plan and problem-solve throughout their projects. Students began by creating basic web pages using HTML, a computer language which forms the most basic building block of the internet, and learned how to be responsible consumers and custodians of content created by others by reviewing Creative Commons licenses and copyright awareness protocol.

The infrastructure and security features of the internet were also a hot topic in the class — they studied file transfers, browsers, and search engines, as well as SSL (secure sockets layer) certificates, which ensure that all data passed between web servers and browsers remains private. To cap off their lessons, they learned that collaboration was possible beyond the walls of a classroom, through the use of online tools such as KidBlog, EduBlog, WordPress, and Wikipedia.

In spite of attendance challenges typical to many summer vacation programs, course organizers were able to collect both pre- and post-test data on five students. Their gains were remarkable — the average score increased by 30 points from pre- to post-test.

Thanks to the grant AT&T Aspire recently awarded the STEM2 Hub, more students will have an opportunity to learn web design skills even as the new school year begins. The hub will devote part of the grant to implementing a new web design program, Web Design Krewe, in collaboration with IJHANA, a Jacksonville-based firm committed to advancing business strategy through digital transformation and advanced analytics.

“The Web Krewes will learn the full realization cycle associated with meeting a business need with emphasis on website development. From design to launch, students will be equipped with skills to build websites and participate in robust competitions,” said IJHANA partner James Higbe. STEM2 Hub will post more information about the Web Design Krewe programs on stem2hub.org as it becomes available.

Frank Robinson, Jr. is a retired Senior Manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. He currently serves as the director of operations for the Northeast Florida STEM2 Hub.

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