PCHS team to represent state in Verizon App Challenge

Five Pocahontas County High School students worked together to create an app for the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge and won first place in the state. The team will move on to the national competition. Front row, from left: Elijah Robertson, Matthias Solliday, Jacob Jones, Noah Barkley and Logan Woodruff. Back row, from left: Green Bank Observatory computer scientist Ray Creager, math and computer science teacher Laurel Dilley, math teacher Jennifer Nail and math coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman. S. Stewart photo
Five Pocahontas County High School students worked together to create an app for the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge and won first place in the state. The team will move on to the national competition. Front row, from left: Elijah Robertson, Matthias Solliday, Jacob Jones, Noah Barkley and Logan Woodruff. Back row, from left: Green Bank Observatory computer scientist Ray Creager, math and computer science teacher Laurel Dilley, math teacher Jennifer Nail and math coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

During an assembly Friday at Pocahontas County High School, it was announced that five students – Matthias Solliday, Jacob Jones, Logan Woodruff, Elijah Robertson and Noah Barkley – were the state winners in the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge.

Math and computer science teacher Laurel Dilley made the challenge a required project in her computer science class. Along with the groups in her class, several students in the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] club decided to take on the challenge, as well.

Despite not yet having computer science, the five young men worked together to create an app following the guidelines of Verizon that it be an app that would help their community.

The team brainstormed ideas and then one evening, Solliday was discussing it with his mom when she made a suggestion that became their project.

“I was headed to church Wednesday night, just thinking about it, and I told my mom about it,” Solliday said. “She was like, ‘oh that’s pretty cool,’ and she just blurted out, ‘you know what we need is a flood app.’ I was like, ‘that’s a good idea.’ Jacob goes to the same church I do, and I told him about it and we started coming up with stuff.”

The group developed the Flood Protection app, which will alert individuals about rising water, how to evacuate, where to evacuate to and how to keep tabs on family and friends who may also be affected by flooding.

“Our app will show a topographical map and it will show the rivers,” Solliday said. “If these rivers are fine, average height, they will light up green. If they are a little above average and somewhat dangerous, they’ll light up yellow and if they are dangerous and a flood could possibly happen, then they’ll light up red or blink red and you’ll get an alert to get out of the area.”

Woodruff, who made the video for the group’s submission, said the app will have a lot of features to help individuals stay safe during a flood.

“We came up with a lot of key features that might indeed help,” Woodruff said. “Our app will send alerts with a signature  sound so you know it’s not just a random text message. It will be able to link several phones together in one network to keep your family safe. It could also send alerts to your emergency contacts such as your family, friends and neighbors.”

Other features include alerts if you are driving toward high water, links to flood relief and Red Cross websites, set up a safety plan or meeting place, alert you that water is high at your home if you are on vacation and alert you to locations that are safe for shelter.

General manager of the Staunton, Virginia, Verizon store, Courtney Francisco explained that the team was awarded first place in West Virginia and has been entered in the national competition.

“Only 94 schools in the country can say that they won the best in state for this competition,” Francisco said. “There were 1,800 teams who submitted to win, so this is a huge accomplishment for your classmates.”

Along with moving on to nationals, the team won $5,000 for the STEM club and each member, as well as Dilley received a Verizon tablet.

The team is also entered in the Fan Favorite competition which is voted on by the public. To vote for the team, text FLOODPRO to 22333. If they win the Fan Favorite competition, Verizon will donate an additional $15,000 to PCHS, the app will be downloadable on the Google Play Store and the team will receive an all expenses paid trip to Orlando, Florida, to attend the Technology Student Association Conference.

During the assembly, math teacher Jennifer Nail, who co-sponsors the STEM club with Dilley, spoke on behalf of Dilley and herself, stating they are proud of all the students who created an app, and said that all students should consider taking computer science.

“These young men have shown exceptional creativity and perseverance in developing their idea and presenting it through video and through words,” Nail said. “I also want to congratulate Mrs. Dilley’s computer science class who worked diligently on other beneficial and innovative apps.

“I want to encourage all of you to find something that you enjoy doing at school and go outside of your comfort zone with it,” Nail continued. “Education should not just be about mandated assignments and doing the bare minimum. These boys learned because they were interested and they were having fun. They found something that they wanted to do and they poured their hearts into it.”

Nail encouraged students to take computer science, or Cammy Kesterson’s web design class, or to join the STEM club.

“Everyone is welcome, so you don’t have to be a nerd to come to STEM club, I promise, though sometimes, it helps,” Nail joked.

She also recognized and thanked Green Bank Observatory computer scientist Ray Creager, who volunteers to help the computer science class each Friday.

“Starting last year, he has volunteered his time every single Friday to come and teach computer science to our students and to Mrs. Dilley during computer science class,” Nail said. “The language he was helping them code is called Python. This is an opportunity that I’m sure very few students get. Think about it for a second. We have a professional computer scientist coming in every week and working with us. That’s a big deal having someone willing to give us that much of their time and genuine experience in coding.”

Pocahontas County Schools director of technology Ruth Bland addressed the student body and also encouraged students to think outside the box and set their sights on the STEM field.

While some would consider a hinderance to technology to live in Pocahontas County, due to the National Radio Quiet Zone in Green Bank and the spotty high speed Internet throughout the county, Bland told students to not let that stop their creativity and ingenuity.

“We all know about the problem with being able to have high speed Internet in our homes,” Bland said. “We all know that we do not have cell phone coverage because of the federally designated Quiet Zone that surrounds Green Bank Observatory. It can be a barrier, but these gentlemen and these students in this class did not see it as a barrier. They went through it and said, ‘we might not be able to do it in our area, but we can develop an app and we can use it,’ and that’s what they did.

“So they took a risk,” she continued. “They understood how to get around that barrier, and they created something that they are winning an award for.”

To see the team’s application video, visit youtube.com and search Flood Protection app. To vote for the team, text FLOODPRO to 22333.

Voting for the Fan Favorite ends February 14, at 11 p.m. 

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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