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What these Clarence High students learned about the ‘idea process’ by winning national contest

Clarence High School students win national app contest

Not just one but two teams of students from Clarence High School have won a national app building contest.

The local students were among the five winning teams of the eighth annual Lenovo Scholar Network National Mobile App Development Competition.

Two teams of four students from Clarence spent six months creating apps that address problems they saw in their classrooms and communities.

“The whole objective is for students to actually look in the market and see what’s available, what’s out there, what problem can they solve that hasn’t been already solved before,” teacher Heather Hartmann said. “They can’t come up with an app that already exists in the market.”

Single teams from Clarence High School have won in the past, Hartmann said, but this is the first time in the five years the school has participated that there has been two winners.

UrbanizeEDU is an app designed to bring students together to promote educational discussion, while ensuring student safety.

VA United connects users with local Veterans Affairs sites and quickly directs them to the website and location of health care facilities, pharmacies, benefits, cemeteries and emergency care locations.

The Clarence High School students who participated are part of the school’s Academy of Business and Finance, a college and career readiness program for sophomores, juniors and seniors, Hartmann said. The program is in partnership with NAF, a national network that supports career academies at traditional high schools. NAF partners with Lenovo, a consumer electronics company, to host the app contest.

Focus on the ‘idea process’

The app contest not only encourages students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math, but also provides students with experience problem-solving and working in teams, said Libby Richards, a community engagement manager at Lenovo.

“For this competition, it’s not necessarily about the app that you create, like the nitty gritty of it, but it’s more about the idea process behind it,” said Ishfar Shaan, one of the students who participated in the contest. “You have to identify your market, find the problem and offer a good solution. It’s not like you have to have code-heavy students laying around. You got to have people who can research and understand societal issues at hand right now.”

An idea born out of the pandemic

Shaan, a 2022 graduate, was part of team UrbanizeEDU, and Leighton Parlato, a rising senior, was part of the VA United team.

UrbanizeEDU is like an academic-based social media platform for students, Shaan said. Coming back to in-person school following virtual learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, a large percentage of students were still missing class for days at a time because they were sick. As a result, they would fall behind on their schoolwork, he said.

“We realized that it was a pretty good idea to create an app where students from the same school district could basically talk to each other and create a virtual city of learners with the shared goal of helping each other succeed, catch up, share material and all that,” Shaan said.

The idea for the VA United app came from Parlato’s work with Veterans Affairs in Western New York. As part of Clarence High School’s Academy of Business and Finance program, students work with businesses in the community to problem solve real-life issues. Parlato was assigned to work with the VA to increase community outreach.

Parlato brought that issue to the app contest and she and her three teammates, Ethan Heleba, Madeline O’Brien and Louis Mancuso, designed an app to make it easier for veterans to access their benefits.

Each of the team members had specific roles in bringing their apps to life.

For UrbanizeEDU – which included students Tyler Murphy, Waaris Hundal and Nawaab Hundal – Shaan created the user interface, or how the user interacts with the app and how it looks. Parlato’s main role was research and coming up with the general layout and idea for VA United.

Shaan and Parlato both said their biggest takeaway from participating in the contest was learning teamwork.

“My biggest takeaway from this was how to successfully work with a team and how to step into the role that you’re given and how all that plays together,” Parlato said. “And I think it showed me a lot about how teams work in the real business world and how hard work pays off.”

The Academy of Business and Finance program started at Clarence High School in 2005, Hartmann said. Students who participate learn personal finance, work with business coaches, explore possible careers, learn interview skills and complete an internship.

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