By Jay Steiger
Three Grossmont High School students, two of whom had shown little interest in computer science prior to high school, beat out competitors from across San Diego to win the 53rd District in the 2016 Congressional App Challenge.
Juniors Christina Muñoz, Angelica Ramirez, and Kyle Trusso are all students in Patrick Giovengo’s AP Computer Programming class at Grossmont.
Trusso developed an early interest in computers because his father works in information technology, however Muñoz and Ramirez had not given them much though thought until they were classmates in a freshman technology class. This class sparked their interest and decision to pursue to technology.
Their sophomore web design teacher, Todd Benrud, encouraged them to join the competitive computer coding team, called the Hackathon Team, at Grossmont. And this year, the three teamed up for the Congressional App Challenge.
The Congressional App Challenge was created in 2013 and is open to all high school students across the county. Each congressional district can select one winner, but not all districts have entrants. For the 2016 competition, 2,160 students from 123 districts submitted 650 apps for review.
The Grossmont team’s winning app links the school’s online Google Classroom to each student’s phone so they can receive regular reminders of pending assignments or tests. Muñoz was inspired with the idea for the app from noticing how students would often forget about assignments or test dates and how easy it would be to use their phones for reminders.
In addition to most owning their own cell phones, all Grossmont students are given Chromebook laptops and everyone works through Google Classroom. Since Google owns the Android operating system, this was the platform for which they designed the app. A video of the students explaining the app, can be viewed at bit.ly/2qdCnpx.
Muñoz noted that while the initial Google Firebase software setup was not difficult, getting multiple Google Classroom pages to transfer to the phones took a lot of work and they are still trying to improve the app’s overall functionality.
She also said that while many tech people were helpful, app developers often didn’t want to give too much information as they saw the students as possible competitors.
The Grossmont team’s app beat out all other schools in Rep. Susan Davis’ 53rd Congressional District. District winners were notified in December 2016 and invited to a recognition event called House of Code, held in Washington D.C. in early April of this year. The event allowed the winners to demonstrate their apps to members of congress, staff, and representatives from tech companies.
With financial assistance from the community and the Grossmont High School Foundation, the Grossmont team was able to travel to Washington to attend the House of Code, which is sponsored by large technology companies.
“We were concerned when we heard they might not be able to afford to go to the ceremony in Washington D.C., but helping students is exactly what the Grossmont High School Education Foundation is here for,” said Grossmont Foundation president Tony Lawrence. “Thanks to the generous donations from our parents, alumni, and community, we can provide support for students and educational programs when needed.”
Trusso said he enjoyed most about going to the House of Code event was getting to meet representatives from companies like Microsoft, Intel, and UPS among others. He was inspired by discussions of cybersecurity and would like to focus on that as a future career.
Muñoz said that many tech representatives were impressed by the app and gave good advice and suggestions for future improvements.
Ramirez said it was a lot of fun to meet other high school students, stating they were “just like us.” The students exchanged information and hope to keep in contact in the future, she said.
Among the winners, there were other apps similar to that of the Grossmont team, but “ours was better,” Trusso said.
Principal Dan Barnes stated that he is extremely proud of the students and their achievement and is continually amazed by the high technological level of work being done by students and staff in the technology pathway at Grossmont High.
Rep. Davis noted the return on investing in technology in schools, like providing Chromebooks to all students at Grossmont.
“This shows the benefit of investing in and emphasizing education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” she said. “If we are going to create the tech and science leaders of tomorrow, we need to invest in them today. Congratulations to these young innovators. We are all excited to see what the future has in store for them.”
For the future, Muñoz and Ramirez both hope to attend UCSD and will be the first in their families to attend college. Like Torres, Muñoz hopes to go into cybersecurity. Ramirez said that, although she loved coding, she wanted to build things and hopes to become an engineer in the aerospace industry.
The app challenge for 2017 will run from July 26 to Nov. 1. Information on entering can be found at congressionalappchallenge.us.
—Jay Steiger is a parent, community and school volunteer, and serves as the chairperson of the GUHSD District Advisory Committee.