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North Hills students win Best in Nation app award

A screenshot from a video from North Hills Prep School students explaining their award-winning app.
A screenshot from a video from North Hills Prep School students explaining their award-winning app.

Identically attired high school students filled the North Hills Preparatory school’s  newly completed, Rosemary Pearlmeter Student Activity Center gymnasium to celebrate the accomplishments of seven students on team Leave No Trace.

Having created a concept for an app to help people reduce their carbon footprint, the team entered the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. The North Hills team proceeded to win Best in Texas, Best in South Area (11 state region) and finally Best in Nation.

“For this national competition there were more than 1,200 teams across America that involved over 11,000 students who submitted entries,” said David Russell, Verizon’s vice president of external affairs. “There were only eight national winners: four middle schools and four high schools. So North Hills made it to the Final Four in this competition. What makes it especially sweet for those of us who live in Texas, is that of the four middle school winners in the nation, one of those is in Texas also (Resaca Middle School in Los Fresnos). So Texas won 25 percent of the entire competition.”

The team’s teacher sponsor, Samuel Bandstra, said the idea behind the app was to one day help individuals preserve natural resources.

“Arguably the most important issue we are facing today is the issue of climate change and of our rapid use of our natural resources,” Bandstra said. “While scientists and politicians battle over policy and timelines, right here at North Hills an intrepid group of scholars has identified a small yet vital step that we can take towards conserving our precious natural resources and saving energy all by using something as ubiquitous yet revolutionary as a cell phone app.

“The purpose of Leave No Trace is simple, allow consumers to see their carbon footprint by inputting their energy usage into an app. Once they see the impact they are having on the environment, they will then be able to change their habits in order to lower their carbon footprint and thus decrease their negative impact on the environment.

“Eventually, we hope to interact directly with energy companies to offer financial incentives and compete with other users to see who can lower their energy usage more.

“Imagine if even 100 people lowered their annual energy usage by just 10 percent. Imagine the impact we can start to have on our planet; that is what we are hoping for,” he said.

“It’s a topic that is very timely, because there is so much emphasis and interest today in sustainability efforts,” Russell said. “I think the app will be appealing to a lot of younger people. If they can develop this app, it’s something a lot of people particularly under 40 would be interested in downloading and being aware of their carbon footprint, so they can be more responsible consumers of energy and electricity.”

Currently, the United States ranks 36th in the world in math and 38th in world in science. Any students wanting to ensure their future in the job force should begin seriously studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses now, according to Leslie Hernandez, Verizon’s director of business sales.

“You hear about the unemployment rates and how high they are, and there are three million STEM jobs available in the United States that are not filled, because we do not have qualified candidates,” Hernandez said.

“Thirty-four percent of U.S. eighth graders are proficient in math. Think about that. That is a huge percentage of folks who have made it through middle school who are not proficient in math. Only 17 percent of U.S. 12th graders are proficient in math. So the statistic gets worse as you get older,” Hernandez said. “A lot of folks are not interested in perusing STEM related jobs, because they are not proficient in some of these academic classes.

“Students such as the North Hills high school team are stepping forward to be leaders in math, technology and science. I want to reiterate to you guys how important it is to keep working the science, math and technology pieces as you go out into the world. The opportunity for STEM jobs is very positive for you guys as technology advances. Cell phones, tablets and technology, everything changes every day. There is something new every single day,” she said.

During the event, Verizon presented each member of team Leave No Trace and Mr. Bandstra with a new Samsung Galaxy Tablet. Verizon also presented North Hills Preparatory school a check for $20,000.

In the next few months, the team will work with trainer Ann Root from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn how to turn their concept into an actual app that can be downloaded. The app will be displayed at National Technology Student Association Conference in Washington, D.C. June 27 – July 1. Once it is created, North Hills Preparatory will own the app.

Perhaps it is not too ironic that in a school known for its academic prowess, the first banner hung in its new gymnasium is for an achievement in STEM.

“Our mission as an IB World School is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who create a better and more peaceful world,” said Tracy Odom, North Hills’ High School Director, during the assembly. “Your app challenge is an example of IB (International Baccalaureate) in action.

“We thank you Verizon for year after year providing challenging opportunities for young people who are active and passionate learners.”

A variety of extracurricular activities helps young people expand their learning experience, according to Yasmin Bhatia, the CEO of Uplift Education, North Hills’ charter school network.

“Participation in the Verizon App Challenge is the exact type of extension of a classroom learning environment that we are always seeking and striving to provide for our students. There is no better way to make learning sticky than connecting it to real world situations and challenges,” Bhatia said.

Click here to watch the students explain the app.