- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) - Five Tri-Tech Skills Center students were distracted Tuesday morning as they waited to see if they won a national app development competition.

They had already won the regional and state contests in recent weeks with their smartphone app designed to help teenagers deal with stress and depression, earning $5,000 for their school. But they and teacher Kristel Kinder were torn between not wanting to get their hopes up but also wanting to know whether they were one of eight teams to win the national award.

“We were checking the website two or three times during class,” Kinder told the Herald. “We were doing CPR training and would stop to check.”

But when representatives from contest sponsor Verizon Wireless entered the classroom, accompanied by district and school officials, the students began tearing up almost immediately.

“This is my first time ever winning something,” said 17-year-old Genesis Saucedo, a Hanford High School senior.

Along with receiving tablet computers of their own and a $20,000 check for Tri-Tech, the students will work with an app design expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make their idea, called Safe&Sound;, a reality. The students then will be flown to Dallas in June to present it during the National Technology Student Association Conference.

“I feel like up to this point we’ve done something to make people aware of the problem but now we can actually help people,” said 17-year-old Chloe Westphal, a junior at Kennewick’s Mid-Columbia Partnership.

Kinder had several student teams in her health informatics class enter the Innovative App Challenge as part of their classwork, partly to drive home the importance of technology in health care that her course focuses on but also to bring some exposure to the field as well. The competition, first organized by Verizon in partnership with the Technology Student Association three years ago, aims to interest students in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, related fields.

More than 1,000 student teams entered the competition. Other winning app concepts include an idea from a Texas middle school offering dyslexic students options for modifying text on their phones to ease reading. Two concepts focus on connecting students to volunteer opportunities in their community. A Delaware arts schools app would provide a digital cadaver to aid in teaching anatomy.

The Safe&Sound; team - made up of Genesis; Chloe; Pasco High School senior Marina Stepanov, 17; Kiona-Benton City High School junior Stephanie Lopez, 17; and River’s Edge High School senior Amanda Arellano, 19 - was inspired to create their app through their own experiences dealing with stress as teenagers but also after the October shooting at Marysville Pilchuk High School north of Seattle. A freshman killed four people before turning the gun on himself.

A video the students submitted along with their app concept talked about how the shooting had affected them and that resonated with judges and Verizon officials.

“It’s touching,” said Scott Charleston, public relations manager for Verizon. “The topic is obviously of critical importance.”

The students’ app concept includes a list of hotlines for students to call in an emergency, advice on how to talk to others and work through problems with them, push notifications with tips on how to get through the day, and even a journal feature where students type a note to themselves or even say it verbally and have it transcribed.

Putting that all into a working app is easier said than done, Charleston said. And they’ll have to get it all done in time to present at TSA’s summer conference.

But the students are looking forward to the challenge, knowing that they can ultimately help their fellow students while also showing that their hard work up to know has paid off.

“Realizing it’s going to come true and we’re going to make it - it makes it that much more special,” Genesis said.

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com

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