Ahead of their time – The People’s Defender

Bill Lewis began teaching computer science at PHS in 1979. (Provided)

By Ashley McCarty

Peoples Defender

Before there was Google, Facebook, or YouTube, 25 years ago in 1996, Peebles High School became one of the very first schools in the area to have a website.

As we were building the new high school buildings, the school district sent several teachers out to workshops around the state. At one of these workshops, they taught us a little bit about how to create a website. I had been teaching computers at PHS for a number of years already, so this was kind of an amazing thing to me that these tools made this. It was really possible for students to do this. At that time, Microsoft was behind a project called Schools on the Web. You could create a website and then upload it to them, and thats actually how we got started, said former PHS Computer Science Teacher Bill Lewis.

The original group of 11 students credited for creating the website were Amy Farquer, Dale Fitzpatrick, Cori Hanna, Mandy Hedrick, Amanda Howard, Jason Howard, Beth Myers, Justin Myers, Jake Phipps, Regina Smalley and Robyn Workman. Since then, nearly 400 students at PHS have been directly involved in its design and development.

[Back then] we used Notepad [to create the website]. While [during my tenure] we did upgrade to Notepad++, we continued to write the code for the entire website in hand-coded HTML. We hand wrote it, we never used web tools. I always felt like, for the students, if they hand-coded it, it gave them a better understanding of what was happening. If you can hand-code it, you can adapt to using web tools very easily, because you can understand the concepts behind it. Since then, David Vogler has replaced me as the computer teacher, and they continue to start off doing hand-coding, said Lewis.

Over the years, not only have students been able to learn the intricacies of HTML through the website, but they have learned how to create graphic images, design, as well as the value of writing content.

They learned how to create graphic images, such as gifs, jpegs, creating icons or headers. We were extremely frugal. In 25 years, we spent less than $1,000 total. We bought a couple of digital cameras over the years. We used Paintshop Pro instead of Photoshop, and we used that to teach them how to do graphic editing. Beyond the mechanics of writing the HTML and the graphic editing, it was learning to design; using the right colors as well as background wallpapers. There was also writing content, and [all of the aspects that go with that to do it properly], said Lewis.

Alongside working on the school website, students were encouraged to create pages about themselves.

They would get so excited about that. It was something a lot of them took a lot of pride in, he said. He recalls many personalized and thoughtful pages created by his students reflecting their hobbies, interests and their passions. Even without internet, these pages could be created and opened in a web browser.

Once it got started, I became very passionate about it. I always started off the year telling the students that I took a lot of pride in the fact that this was a website made by them, by the students. I had my hand in it, but for the most part, everything was done by the students. I took and take so much pride in that, said Lewis. Still very impassioned, Lewis dedicates two or three days each year to guest-instruct the class.

[Over the years the website] has taken on many forms. In the beginning, the website was very basic, but it was something, and we were proud of it. As students became used to seeing websites, they would want to do different things. One year, I remember the background on the school homepage looked like it was inspired by the Grateful Dead, Lewis said, laughing, even though something may not have been to my taste, I supported the kids, because it was their website, he said. Though Lewis was always adamant to make sure everything was in good taste and properly legible.

Since its inception in 1996, the website has been visited by every state and every continent except for Antarctica.

Shortly before I retired [in 2014], it had been visited by somebody from every state aside from two. I vowed that if those two states still hadnt visited by the time I retired, I was going to go there and log into the website myself, he said, laughing, but, that happened before I retired.

Over the years, Lewis has had the opportunity to bond with some of those individuals in other states and countries and make a plethora of fond memories.

According to Lewis, sometime between 2010-2012, the district moved to using a single hub website for the different school attendance areas. Despite this change, the original PHS website continues to be updated.

Since I left, theyve added a Twitter feed and integrated the school calendar which has upcoming school events. It has the bell schedule, the teachers, course descriptions, news from various clubs, sports schedules, graduation information and much more. The website the students make is a lot more personal, said Lewis. Aside from that, there is history.

There is a page on there about the history of PHS. One of the last big projects we took on before I retired was digitizing all of the old senior composites. Theyre all on there. A lot of people in the community were excited about it. Theres some information on there about the history of the buildings, and even the teaching staff. Theres a lot of formal history aside from the [history students have created just by creating the pages], said Lewis.

For those wishing to experience the deeply nostalgic and enrapturing content the PHS website has to provide, visit https://www.peebles.scoca-k12.org/.

It was something that, in my last several years at Peebles, I took a lot of pride in. I think that we created a new tradition that still continues. I hope to see it continue for many more years. If people visit the site, I think they will find many interesting and wonderful things, said Lewis.

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Ahead of their time - The People's Defender

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