State taps student talent

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"Making the grade"

Middle school students in Olympia, Wash., are creating a Web site that allows visitors to take a virtual tour of the state's historic 74-year-old capitol building.

Officials at the Division of Capitol Facilities, part of the state Department of General Administration, wanted to make it easier for students in the more remote and rural eastern areas of the state to learn about and tour the building. Officials decided to create a virtual tour, but lacked the budget to hire a professional Web developer.

So at the recommendation of a department employee and former teacher, state officials turned to 20 seventh- and eighth-graders who had completed an 18-week technology enhancement course. The course is part of the {Generation www.Y program, which got its start from a U.S. Department of Education technology grant.

"We approached the school, talked to the students, pitched the idea and they loved it," said Sandy DeShaw, Washington's manager of visitor services. "Getting this tour online was kind of a priority for this agency because we are heavily tourist-oriented and [have] a large field-trip program. The students ended up coming in and doing the photography, editing, writing, site design, you name it. They got a help little with the coding, but the students really did all the work."

The school already possessed the hardware and software needed to create the site. All that remained was teaching the students how to create a Web page, said Brian Morris, a seventh-grade teacher at the school, who along with two other teachers worked with the students on the project.

"These students were all graduates of the [Generation www.Y] program," Morris said. "So what we did was come up with a community service project that would let them use and enhance these technology skills that the program had given them."

The students used FileMaker Inc.'s Claris Home Page for parts of the site, and for others they wrote their own HTML code with help from area high school students who also were in the Generation www.Y program.

The students completed the site before breaking for their summer vacation. General Administration visitor services workers are checking the site for errors, and plans call for launching the site by the fall. It will be accessible through links on the state's home page (access.wa.gov).

Visitors will be able to see panoramic shots of the capitol building, accompanied by sound bites of students giving descriptions and histories of the various rooms. No further plans between the school and the state are in place, but DeShaw would not rule out the possibility of using students for other community service-oriented projects.

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