ROCK SPRINGS — It was an educational atmosphere that resembled real life more than the traditional classroom.
Over the course of three school days last week, nearly every junior high student in Sweetwater County School District No. 1 gathered in groups of four or five to complete each step to create a new mobile app.
It couldn’t be just any app, though. Each one had to improve the community in some way. Students collaborated as they worked, using their imaginations to come up with an idea and then implementing it using technology. The final step was to promote their apps and seek funding.
The Feb. 4-6 educational event at Rock Springs Junior High School was also a competition. Junior high students from Farson-Eden and Wamsutter schools came to participate, along with local sixth-graders in the gifted and talented program. A total of about 950 students competed. In the end, four teams were chosen to move to the next level and represent Sweetwater County at the first Wyoming statewide contest in May in Casper.
On Thursday morning, groups huddled together in classrooms and hallways, putting the final touches on their storyboards and PowerPoint presentations before practicing the pitch they would make to teachers in hopes of moving forward in the goIT event.
Twelve teams were selected to make their pitches in front of classmates and a group of judges from the community on Thursday afternoon. Half of the teams did their presentations in the gym and the other half did theirs in the auditorium. Several community leaders served as judges, including Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle, Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo and Sweetwater No. 1 Trustee Max Mickelson. They picked two teams in each arena to move on to state competition. A rubric point system was used for scoring.
App proposals included such things as suicide prevention, employment, tourism, fishing and snow shoveling services. Nerves were apparent at times, but students did their best to highlight the benefits of their apps, explain their target audience, discuss how they were better than the competition, and ask for money to get things going. Funding requests varied from $1,000 to $250,000.
The winning auditorium team members, The Persona 4/Guardian Supporters, jumped up and cheered at the news of their victory, sharing hugs and a even few tears. The Guardian Supporters app focuses on mental health awareness. Team members include Samantha Bernard, Sabrena Henley, Cheylynn Ross and Kayla Weber.
The winning team in the gym pitched their WYO Jobs app. It is designed to help people research and find jobs and is targeted to teens, people moving to Wyoming, college graduates and employers. Team members include Logan McCann, Clara Luzmoor, Neil Hernandez and Taylor Smith.
Two of the top five teams designed their apps as a tool to bring people to Wyoming and promote tourism. WYO-GO was the second-place app in the auditorium group with team members Tanner Thompson, Owen Patterson, Jonah Anderson, Peyton Jenkins and Javon Newman. The team that designed the app Wonders of Wyoming took third place in the gym and includes Danica Hoffman, Peighton Christiansen, Taylor Gerrard and Isaiah Hunter.
Only three team members were available to pitch the Help First app in the gym, but they did a great job and placed second. It is a suicide prevention app.
One team that didn’t make it into the finals, but had a creative idea, came up with an app for students who have to miss school due to illness or injury. It was dubbed Hospitality and would allow students in the hospital to watch lessons and to video chat with teachers and classmates. Students could also use the app to keep track of their grades.
“Not only will it help our community, it can help the nation,” Katherine Rodriguez said. Other members of her group include Jasmyne Mauch, Samantha Tylka, Melody Roswell and Scott Stensgard.
One set of students decided to use a skit as a pitch method. The app Congenial was designed by Jericha Olson, Lexus Fadling, Nicole Sanchez, Hailey Stocks and Ryen Johnston. They developed a skit portraying users who benefit from the app intended to spur economic development.
Congenial is intended to take a business or product idea and make it happen in one to three years. Users can choose to be an entrepreneur or to offer suggestions based on ideas, needs or wants. One example the group gave was the suggestion to bring an Olive Garden restaurant to Rock Springs.
The app designing contest was brought to Rock Springs by goIT — a student technology awareness program developed by Tata Consultancy Services. It was created to provide students with technology in an effort to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills while igniting excitement about STEM education and careers.
Teachers receive training in order to implement the goIT program in their schools. Since 2009, goIT has grown to include 77 cities throughout North America with the help of almost 3,800 TCS employee volunteers. More than 25,00 middle and high school students have participated in the program in the United States and Canada.