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Sunday, Feb. 02, 2014

Olathe and Northland students rise in national app contest

Special to The Star

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The Kansas City area boasts two state winners in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

A team of seven sophomores from Olathe Northwest High School and a team of five upperclassmen at Staley High School in Kansas City, North, were named the Kansas and Missouri winners of the second national competition to develop mobile apps that address a need in their schools or community. Verizon recently chose two winners from each state, from a middle school and a high school. No local middle schools won the contest.

The Olathe Northwest team — Drew Krause, Bo Steele, Jack Perkins, A.J. Null, Bailey McAuley, Jeffrey Payne and Jesse Rose — from the district’s aerospace and engineering program, created an app to help students easily find jobs or community service work.

“We talked to a bunch of our friends and we realized a lot of students have trouble finding jobs because not many people want to hire a 16- or 17-year-old,” said Krause. “There are a lot of kids who just want to make extra money on the weekends or after school. This app can help connect them with people who do want to hire for temporary work.”

Over at Staley, Lucas Wyland, Ian Collins, John Goldsberry, Jonah Witcig and Derick McCary designed an app to boost communication for groups or clubs.

“When you’re in sports or other activities, it’s kind of hard to organize stuff through email or text messaging,” said Wyland, a senior on the Staley team. “This app allows those groups to schedule events, post agendas and keep track of attendance.”

Each teams spent hours after school brainstorming ideas, piecing together a concept and creating a short video and detailed essay about their app.

“When I come up with ideas for my own projects, I don’t have anyone to give me feedback,” said Wyland, who wants to be a software engineer one day. “I realized being able to toss ideas back and forth with other people not only made the process easier, but it created a much better product.”

Steele, a sophomore from the Olathe Northwest team, echoed that sentiment.

Not only did the project teach the students about realistic deadlines and time management, but it also showed the importance of teamwork, he said.

“This entire process has given us experience for the real world,” Steele said. “Collaborating with other people to solve problems is something we’ll have to face no matter what career we choose.”

Plus, the kids added, since everything seems to be going mobile nowadays, learning how to conceptualize an app is a vital skill for anyone who wants a computer science career.

Their faculty advisers agree.

Lesley Martin, the faculty adviser of the Staley team, wishes there were more competitions like the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

“A competition like this one gives these students validation outside of school, which is invaluable,” she said. “It’s one thing for a teacher to say you’re great; it’s another to be named best in the state by Verizon Wireless.”

On Tuesday, the teams will learn if they have been chosen as one of the 24 regional representatives to move on to the next round.

Regional winners will earn $5,000 cash grants for their schools. Faculty advisers of the winning teams, along with up to two colleagues, will participate in an online course called “Teaching App Creation with MIT App Inventor,” taught by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab’s Center for Mobile Learning’s app development experts.

From there, eight Best in Nation winners will be chosen Feb. 19. Those winners will go on to earn an additional $15,000 for their school to develop or support a science, technology, engineering and math program. Verizon will then help those teams build their apps and make them available for sharing and distribution. In June, those eight winning teams will present their finished product at a conference in Washington, D.C.

“Being named best in state is a great accomplishment, whether these students go further or not,” said Bruce Wellman, the Olathe School District’s Aerospace & Engineering Program Department chairman. “It’s a reflection of their hard work and creativity. The fact they did this on their own time makes me proud because it shows they understand that to be successful, you need to take risks and really make an effort.”

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