When it comes to COVID-19, despite lots of attempts to get information out, some Everett High students found that their friends affected by COVID had trouble finding help, and so the students set out to solve that issue with a new online application.
And in helping others, they helped themselves to first place in the statewide 2020 STEM Week Challenge – an honor the highly-respected program at EHS had been shooting for over a number of years.
“We started by interviewing some of our friends who have been directly affected by COVID,” said Breetika Maharjan, a junior. “They told us some of the biggest challenges were finding information and locating resources. We tried it ourselves and it was really challenging so we wanted to do a project that would make that more accessible.”
The project was a collaboration between Maharjan and fellow Juniors Alyssa Hurley and Lakisha Kirnon. All three worked on the project remotely, as they are in fully remote schooling at EHS right now. So it was even more difficult to connect with the team and plan out their work – but they overcame, said Hurley.
“Remote learning overall has been tough,” she said. “It’s hard to connect with people via Zoom. Working on this project is more enjoyable than regular class because we were able to incorporate our own experiences and our academics to help our community.”
At Everett High School, the first place Challenge Champions are in teacher Anna Seiders’ class. Under her oversight, the students designed an app for Everett that includes local case count statistics, information on testing sites, centralized resources, and even a section dedicated to self-care for those experiencing anxiety or facing isolation due to the pandemic. Students reached out to City officials to ask questions about current resources and designed their app to fill in gaps in service they identified. One app feature, for example, is a 24/7 helpline offering guidance and support.
“Teaching has never been more challenging,” said Seiders, who is a STEM teacher at EHS. “In a district that is nearly 100 percent remote, developing authentic learning experiences feels almost insurmountable. This project could not have come at a more perfect time. Not only did it fit perfectly in my curriculum, but it also allowed my students to engage in a real-world problem that drastically impacts their community. To be able to integrate the COVID-19 pandemic into our class and give my students an opportunity to discuss, design, and develop meaningful solutions was so powerful. “This applied learning project was a meaningful way for them to see how what they learn in class directly affects their neighborhood as well as inspire them to consider different STEM career pathways for their futures.”
Mass STEM Hub announced the 2020 STEM Week Challenge Champions after industry professionals reviewed the innovative and practical solutions they developed to real-world problems. Top teams like EHS’s will now have the opportunity to further collaborate with industry partners at IBM iX, Dell Technologies, and the New England Aquarium, along with experts from Partners In Health and Bionic Project, Inc.
Mass STEM Hub also worked closely with high-quality STEM applied learning partners Innovative Learning Partners, PBLWorks, Project Lead The Way, and ST Math to design each of the grade-level prompts.
“The projects submitted for the STEM Week Challenge reinforce how effective applied learning is when it comes to engaging students and driving authentic learning,” said Katherine Skrivan, Director of Mass STEM Hub. “We’re proud of all the students who took their learning to the next level by submitting their projects for review and feedback by STEM professionals.”
Industry feedback and engagement is a critical component of the STEM Week Challenge. More than 200 volunteers across 61 companies participated by reviewing projects and giving tailored feedback.
In the industry review of EHS’s winning project, a Boston-based civil engineer congratulated the students on their ingenuity and wrote, “this app goes above and beyond the task of contact tracing, devising a comprehensive view of how to flatten the curve. I would absolutely download this app and feel confident that my community would be safer as a result.”
Kirnon said they didn’t expect to win at all, but simply wanted to solve a problem in the community – that being easily accessible information to the pandemic crisis in Everett.
“Alyssa, Breetika, and I didn’t expect to get first place,” said Kirnon. “It was very shocking given the circumstances of being online for the school year. The best part of the project is that our group had good chemistry and good work ethic.”
K-12 schools across Massachusetts can continue to participate in the STEM Week Challenge and submit projects for industry feedback through November 25. To learn more about the STEM Week Challenge and other hands-on learning experiences offered by Mass STEM Hub, visit mass-stemhub.org.