By guest blogger Danielle Wilson
While many middle schoolers are focused on getting to the next level of popular games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, others, like 13-year-old Aaliyah Trader, are designing apps that give back to their community.
The rising eighth grader from Achievement First Endeavor Middle School, a charter school in Brooklyn, N.Y., helped design the app "Sharety" as part of the design and business plan competition called Battle of the Apps. The free app uses geo-location technology to help users find local charities, and donate money or other items to those organizations.
Through the app, a detailed description is provided of the services each charity provides, and users have the option of signing up to volunteer with organizations needing a helping hand.
"We didn't want to do just another game. I like to try new and different things, and we wanted to try new ideas with this app," said Aaliyah Trader in an e-mail to Education Week. "One of my teammates had the idea to make an app that really gives back to charities, and I liked the idea of sharing so that people could give charities the things that they really need."
This camp comes as many schools are using app development competitions to spark student interest in entrepreneurship while exposing them to entry-level computer programming skills and business management. See this Education Week article about competitions and after-school programs around the country with similar missions.
Aaliyah's group, which included her brother Corey and four other students, won the "Battle of the Apps" challenge for the New York region of the "C.E.O. Bootcamp" summer program. This was the first year the camp was sponsored by After-School All-Stars, a national network of after-school programs with 87,000 children at 367 sites around the country.
Fifteen students from Endeavor Middle participated in the summer camp. Endeavor Middle is one of 29 K-12 charter schools in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York that are part of the Achievement First charter school network.
The C.E.O., or Career Exploration Opportunities Bootcamp teaches students about financial literacy, career development, and entrepreneurship as part of a week-long, overnight camp based at a local college or university campus. Students are taken on daily field trips to various companies and engage in problem-solving tasks that relate to each industry. Students were also arranged in to small groups and came up with app ideas that were pitched to a panel of judges at the end of the camp. Aaliyah's group received the highest score at the N.Y. camp.
Most of the students taking part in the competition were making their first attempt at developing an app. In addition to designing the app, students had to conduct focus groups, develop a marketing strategy, identify potential business partnerships, and put together a presentation, prior to pitching in front of the panel of judges.
Aaliyah, along with other student participants in the camps, which were also held in the District of Columbia, Chicago, San Diego and northern Texas, were selected because of leadership skills and completion of previous career-exploration activities. They also attended an After-School All Stars program during the school year.
"Aaliyah was a standout amongst her peers, [and] she was one of the youngest in the program," said Dax-Devlon Ross, executive director of the New York and New Jersey region of the After-School All-Stars program, in an interview.
Similar themes of community and service oriented apps can be found among the other regional finalists. The other apps include one that translates, one that helps individuals with speech impediments, and an app to assist visually impaired people with directions.
The winner of the national competition, which will be decided within the next month, will receive NBA tickets to a game in their home city. None of the apps are likely to end up in the Android or iTunes marketplace any time soon, but according to Kristy Gausman, a marketing associate for After-School All-Stars, the program is looking in to marketing the apps created by participants in future camps.
Photo: Aaliyah Trader, shown during an After-School All-Stars field trip to Washington, D.C. Courtesy of After-School All-Stars.