IBM system engineer learns a new skill to help a school

Story of service • Belgium • October 2012

Christof Simons at work building
the new web site for Vrije Basis
School Bredene Duinen in
Bredene, Belgium
Vrije Basis School Bredene Duinen is a Catholic elementary school in Bredene, a small coastal town in Belgium. The school’s web site was designed around the year 2000 and was badly in need of an update, but the school had limited funds.

Christof Simons, an IBM system engineer whose two children attend the school, is a member of the Parent Committee at Bredene Duinen, and volunteered to develop a new web site for the school. The only catch? He had never done any sort of web development, and had never even heard of Joomla, an open source content management system for publishing web sites, which the school asked him to use in building the new web site.

Christof's job at IBM is daily management of the iSeries infrastructure used by different customers – but that responsibility doesn’t involve web design or development. During his holidays, he spent his mornings learning Joomla, so that the school's new site would be able to integrate with other schools in the community. He worked on an old laptop, installing an Apache server on it. By June, he had a working web site on his computer, and he uploaded it to the server at Bredene Duinen.

"I just like helping I guess," Christof says. "I like to give both my and the other children at the school all the chances they can get. Having this web site gives the school one additional tool to work with."

Via the new web site, parents are now able to see their children's world at Bredene Duinen. All school documents -- meal vouchers, illness notifications, medication requests, school calendars and meal calendars -- have been incorporated into the new site.

Despite having no experience, Christof Simons builds a web site for an elementary school in Belgium.

Future additions to the site are already being planned -- including an online student newspaper, which will give students experience in article writing, editing, web layout, deadlines and managing a publication.

So far, Christof estimates he’s spent 80 to 90 hours on the project. The site was built so that all teachers, even those who might not consider themselves computer-savvy, can update it with new materials. The teachers were taught how to upload stories and photos about their classes to the site using an internal editor. Each teacher has the ability to blog and that feature is now being used quite extensively - about 80% of the teachers are now blogging. In addition, the principal and the IT teacher are learning Joomla so they will be able to eventually manage the site completely on their own.

Christof Simons dressed up
as a clown during Bredene Duinen’s
annual fundraising carnival party.
“I don’t want to just live my
life invisibly,” Christof says.
Christof plans to develop several different templates, each for a specific period of the year: Autumn, Halloween, Saint Nicolas, Christmas, Winter, Carnival, Easter, and more. The site will automatically switch templates throughout the course of the school year to match the season.

The school’s Parent Committee greatly appreciated his work on the web site and recognized the value it brings to the school, so much so that he was nominated and approved as the new chairman of the Parent Committee.

Based on his volunteer hours for the school, Christof was able to secure an IBM Community Grant which helped offset the cost of digital smartboards for all grades in the school.

"I had a severe car crash in 2008,” Christof says. “Ever since then, I am a lot more involved in volunteer work -- although I already was strongly committed. I just like making a positive impact on the community. I don't want to just live my life invisibly."

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