On July 30, 2018, we had the privilege of launching a website for the I Promise School, a brand new public school taking an innovative approach to education right in our own backyard of Akron, Ohio.
The I Promise School is the product of a partnership between Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation dedicated to helping at risk students and keeping them from falling through the cracks.
How did we meet?
Like the I Promise School, Ethode has something in common with Akron education: we’ve previously worked with the University of Akron to provide dotCMS upgrade services and help out with a few complex, custom coding projects.
When IPS was looking for a local web development partner, and learned about our Akron connection, they contacted us and we scheduled an on-site meeting. Over the course of a few collaborative sessions, the design and development of the website came together.
“We really connected with the LeBron James Family Foundation team on a personal level right from our first meeting,” Andrea, responsible for business development at Ethode, explains.
During that first kickoff meeting, the foundation went the extra step to welcome Ethode into "the family" by giving the project’s product owner, designer, and developers an extensive tour of their headquarters, along with an onsite tour of the school. “It wasn't long before we were emotionally invested in the mission the school was setting out on, and felt a part of the family,” Andrea explains.
Cool design! How did that come about?
Nick, the LeBron James Family Foundation’s brand manager has a design background, which fed into his vision for an extremely inspired and creative site.
Patrick, a designer at Ethode, explains, “IPS prides itself on ‘thinking outside the box’, and wanted the I Promise School site to reflect this philosophy. To a designer, that's music to my ears!”
Patrick worked with Nick to bring the IPS website vision to life by taking their ideas and turning it into visuals we could discuss. From there, we fine-tuned the design, adjusted scope to match timeline, and moved quickly into development.
The end result is a single-page website with many different components promoting the school’s program, mission, news, student and staff promises, founders, leadership, and partners. The homepage starts with a background video, which also features logos for IPS, LJFF, and Akron Public Schools. Each section has a hero image that curves, perfectly complementing the text that follows and helping guide the website viewers to the subsequent sections.
“My favorite thing about the website is its design aesthetic,” Patrick explains. “You visit the website and are immediately sucked into the video, but then you start to scroll and you just want to keep going because each section draws you in even more.”
He also has this unabashed suggestion: “Scroll to the bottom and click the logo! That’s another website I’m working on that will launch shortly!”
What was the biggest development challenge in coding the website?
The website’s coolest feature is parallax scrolling, where the background of the web page moves at a slower rate than the foreground, creating the illusion of depth as you scroll.
As Tyler, one of the site’s developers explains, the biggest challenge in developing the site was getting the parallax effect to play nice with the content. “Initially a lot of the slides would bleed over into the other content and the backgrounds weren't properly sized for the containers,” he explains.
Tom, another of the site’s developers, was responsible for finding a good design pattern for the parallax scrolling effect. “I wanted to find one that worked well with the site design, was flexible, and was also responsive and cross-browser compatible,” he explains. “I went through several implementations before coming across Keith Clark's implementation that worked perfectly.”
Check it out here: https://keithclark.co.uk/.
The parallax solution, combined with applying flexible CSS and the help of the designer to size the images properly, brought the solution together.
What features of dotCMS did you use in developing the site?
The website was built using dotCMS Enterprise 4.3.3.
“We utilized dotCMS's structured content tools to create a News Feed index that allows us to link to internal and external sources seamlessly,” Tom says.
The site provides solid SEO tools and offers the flexibility to add other types of news resources. “This can support aggregated news feeds, for example,” Tom suggests.
Many web development projects have bugs or issues that need to be resolved prior to launching. What bugs did we squash prior to launch?
There were just a few items that we resolved prior to launching the website. They included:
A small video positioning issue that was causing unwanted letterboxing on mobile
An issue specific to the Internet Explorer browser, where the site overlayed logos on top of the video
For developers familiar with Internet Explorer, you know the pain we’re talking about!
How did agile development practices play a part of this project?
For those not familiar, agile is an approach to software development where feature requirements evolve through collaboration focused around adaptive planning, evolutionary development, and continual improvement.
Requirements are provided to developers as “user stories” about what the feature should do for the user. Each bit of development can then be reviewed more quickly, and feedback can be more easily provided and future priorities set just-in-time.
The agile approach to development values:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
We had a tight timeline to work with for this project, so we made full use of this approach!
We made sure to write user stories section-by-section, so that each section of the site could be developed in a sandbox versus the entire site coming together at the end.
This helped the designer prioritize work. “I would hand off my design for the navigation menu and hero video section, and a developer would get to coding it while I would start to design the next section,” Patrick explained.
It also helped the client provide feedback. For this project, we benefited from working in close proximity to our client. As Ryan mentioned, “The LeBron James Family Foundation’s office is close to ours, so Nick could just drop by and we could tackle discussions in person.”
While we were designing and developing the software using agile practices, the team working on this project found it beneficial to work in the same office. “It was cool to work very closely with the devs on certain features - in the office, physically sitting next to one another,” Patrick reasons. “Instead of sending a message over Slack and waiting for a reply, we were working next to each other communicating as things progressed in person. That was cool!”
For launch, not every feature the client wants in the final website was delivered. “With agile best practices,” Ryan explains, “we were able to prioritize and implement the most important elements of the new website that the client needed to be completed for the launch, allowing us to deliver the project on time and on budget.”
We plan to continue working on additional features and content for the I Promise School as we continue to apply this agile approach to development.
Tell me more about the I Promise School!
The LeBron James Family Foundation’s mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. As the website explains, “We believe that an education and living an active, healthy lifestyle is pivotal to the development of children and young adults.”
This mission and year’s worth of work has culminated in the I Promise School, which implements specialized programming, including a longer school day, STEM curriculum, and a focus on academics and character-building, for the Akron Public School students who need it most.
The school’s “We Are Family” philosophy is embodied by its on-campus Family Resource Center and regular events requiring parent and family participation in order to create a supportive environment both in the classroom and at home.
What other companies are partners of the school and are a part of the I Promise School family?
Quite a few!
Ethode is one of dozens of local and national companies who have contributed time, energy, and resources to the ambitious vision of the I Promise School.
In addition to Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation, partners include:
Toy-maker Little Tikes
Food and beverage companies including Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Crazy But True Gourmet Popcorn, Mapleside Farms, Old Carolina Barbecue Company, Piada Italian Street Food, and Swensons Drive-In Restaurants
Healthcare providers including Crystal Clinic Orthopedic Center, Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons, and Peg’s Foundation
Transportation companies TL Worldwide Transportation and Two Men And A Truck
Education organizations including Kent State University, Project Learn of Summit County, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, and University of Akron
Sports and Athletic companies Bridgestone Invitational World Golf Championship, DAP Championship, Milestone Sports Management, and Summit Cycling Center
Landscaping companies Leaf Filter Gutter Protection and Rice’s Landscapes Redefined
Other community, regional, and national organizations and companies like Brunswick Companies, City of Akron, Cedar Point, The Cleveland Film Company, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, iC.A.R.E. United Way, The J.M. Smucker Company, JPMorgan Chase Co., Kaulig Companies, OhioMeansJobs Summit County, Power Media, Signet Jewelers, and WKYC Channel 3 News
In addition, Ethode brought in 2 additional partners for the project:
dotCMS, our recommended Java-based Content Management System (CMS) to rapidly deliver websites, mobile apps, and more, offered an Enterprise license to dotCMS Enterprise 4.3.3 for the I Promise School’s website.
Our sister company, LightSpeed Hosting, hosts the I Promise School website. “We started LightSpeed to provide dedicated facilities and team members focused on building a best-in-class data center,” Joshua explains. LightSpeed is handling the hosting of the I Promise School’s websites, both the production version (that everyone sees) and the dev version that developers use to make future improvements to the website before making them live. For other customers, LightSpeed not only hosts applications in the cloud, but offers fiber internet access, provides managed IT services, and is a colo facility for server equipment and even crypto miner equipment including ASIC miners, rigs, and rackmount.
These partners were invited to a grand opening event on the first day of school. What details can you share about it?
On Monday July 30th, the I Promise School officially opened its doors. All of the kids were in attendance - there were hundreds of students - 240 third and fourth graders to be exact. And all of the partners were invited to be a part of the celebration, too.
At the launch event opening the school, each partner was introduced as part of a parade of support for the school. As Andrea explains, “Seeing the sheer amount of support was so encouraging. That overwhelming support by the community to help educate kids in the community really helped drive home the point for us about the school’s family mission.”
One of the very touching moments during the event was when nationally-acclaimed singer Tori Kelly sang Hallelujah. As we recollected on Instagram earlier this week, “Our team members were still thinking about how much fun we had on Monday - especially the incredible performance by Tori Kelly. What a beautiful voice.”
Leadership at the school gave brief speeches, sharing their gratitude for the support of the local community and the power of an education that combines high aspirations with family support. Vice Principal LeBron James’ mother officially opened the school by raising the IPS flag.
To conclude the launch event, the school’s Principal, Brandi Davis, dismissed the students, and half-jokingly instructed them to “get to class”!
How important is the school’s mission for Ethode?
As Ethode’s co-founder and CEO says, “Part of why we do what we do is to give back to our community with our web development and hosting services.”
Jason, Ethode’s COO and coach to our team members, puts it this way, “Our mission as a company is to use our innovation and creativity to make the world a more joyous place to live.” For a company that develops websites and software applications for other businesses and organizations, Ethode seeks out clients and finds opportunities to help deliver that mission. “Helping to launch the I Promise School is a major step towards that mission,” Jason explains.
In fact, Jason helped craft 9 key values that embody how our team members’ work together and with clients. One of those values is called Charity & The Golden Rule. “We define this value by teaching a person to fish, finding our own sparks in life and helping others to find theirs, and taking care of our team and community.”
The I Promise School represented an opportunity for Ethode to do just that, while creating a website in a field we’re familiar with - education. We’ve served a number of higher education organizations, including the University of Akron, Colorado College, Gettysburg College, Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Taylor University.
Ryan, our project manager for the website, summed up his enjoyment for the project this way: “We seek opportunities to help others in need. LeBron highlighted an acute need in our community, and it was a privilege to be able to contribute a small part to the solution. The whole team rallied around this cause, and we are proud of our contribution, and what the Akron family has built.”
As a company, one of our long-term visions at Ethode is to empower young people to make a positive impact in their community by starting classes to teach kids to code. As Jason explains, “I’ll never forget how I felt when I first learned how to make a computer do something through code. It's such an awesome creative outlet.”
In addition to the I Promise School, Ethode is currently working with Truly Reaching You to launch a new website for them later this year. Truly Reaching You, or TRY, is a relationship-based reentry organization that works with men who have served their sentence and are returning to their communities.
We’ve also invested in myPraize, a faith-based social media network that safeguards personal information through robust security features.
We’re looking forward to continue to work with the I Promise School on additional features for the website. Patrick sums up the project best, “It’s inspiring to hear IPS’s vision for future pages and features. They have no shortage of awesome ideas to work with, and we’re looking forward to doing more for the school and the kids it serves.”