Jefferson Twp. Middle School Wins Verizon App Challenge

Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant

The Jefferson Township winning team accepting their tablets and check, along with Verizon representatives, school principal, assistant superintendent, and faculty members. Photo by Erin Pedrini.

“The kids are very motivated and dedicated to what they do,” said Jefferson Township Middle School teacher Nancy Harris about her group of students who were selected as one of the eight national winners of the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

For the second year in a row, Jefferson Township Middle School has been selected as an app challenge winner. This year, the students won with their app concept called “Super Science Girl,” which is geared toward young girls to encourage them to gain an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. Harris said that the app has different tabs relating to STEM that include games, activities, quizzes and information about famous women in the STEM field.

“Our goal at the Verizon Foundation is to get more students interested in STEM and to provide them with the skills that they need to get into a STEM field in college or in their career path,” said Verizon Director of Education Justina Nixon-Saintil.

In order to enter the contest, students must come up with a concept for an app. Nixon-Saintil said that the reason Verizon chose an app concept rather than having students create the apps ahead of time is because anyone can brainstorm and come up with a good concept and it is a good way to engage children.

Students submit their ideas in the form of a video and written report. The video and report are then judged by a panel of judges from the Verizon Innovation Center, MIT Media Lab, Samsung Mobile, the New York Hall of Science, the National Academy Foundation, National Geographic, the International Reading Association, National Center for Family Literacy, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, VGo Communications Inc., Cisco Systems and the American Association of the Advancement of Science. The judges makes their decisions based on the clear identification of a need or problem in a school or in a community, originality, creativity, viability of the concept and the applicability of the STEM principle and practices.

Once the eight national winners and 24 best in region winners are chosen, the national winners receive $20,000 for their school’s STEM program, Samsung tablets for each of the students on the team and hands-on training with MIT Media Lab trainers to actually create the app in Google Play. When finished, it will be available for downloading to anyone who has Google Play.

Team members viewing the app on computers and tablets. Photo by Erin Pedrini.

“The app inventor training from MIT is fantastic. It worked out so great that part of the grant money from last year’s win we used to bring the trainer back to teach the teachers, so that they would be able to use the skills in their classes,” said Assistant Superintendent Jeanne Howe. Harris said that the students picked up very quickly when going through the training process with MIT.

The money this year will be used for professional development for the staff to make sure that the faculty is incorporating the right ideas of STEM into the curriculum and to cover the resources and materials that the students need for STEM classes, said Principal Kevin Lipton.

Student Ryan Schmidt said, “Once I started working on the app challenge and seeing all it had to offer for us, I just fell in love with all of the things that we did. Brainstorming and everything has helped me a lot so far and my public speaking is getting progressively better and so are my technological skills. I think that because most of the people in our group are not advanced computer skills and to have won something that is based off of technology and to go from something that was basically nothing and work your way up to the top is a very rewarding feeling.”

Harris said that all the team members are in the Gifted Gateways program at the school and chose to do the challenge in their spare time — after school and on weekends — so working on the challenge goes above and beyond their regular schoolwork. The students were each responsible for their own part of the project, so the students did not want to let their team members down by not doing their part, said Harris. She said that it was great that they all came together but still had the responsibility of completing their individual parts.

“Everyone in our group is very positive so we all worked very well together. It was just great and I could not have asked for better team members,” said Schmidt.

“This is outstanding and it just shows what great things we have going on in this school. It opens up a lot of great opportunities for us to really enhance our STEM programs. It showcases the tremendous kids that we have in this community and what they get from their teachers is really amazing. I’m really appreciative of the kids, their teachers and Verizon allowing us this opportunity,” said Lipton.

Watch Jefferson Township Middle School’s video explaining their app concept: