- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

WEST FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Sixth graders in West Fargo have a knack for designing mobile apps. Students from the city’s middle schools have been state champions in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge for the last three years.

The STEM Center Middle School students won for their Recycling Bin app in 2013, Cheney Middle School students won for Snap Docs in 2014, and Liberty Middle School students took first place last year with their School Handy app.

No other city in the country can boast three straight state winners in the competition to create programs to perform tasks on mobile devices.

“I’m never surprised. I’m just always impressed,” said Liberty teacher Gretchen Peterson, who has incorporated the app challenge into her classroom. “Sixth graders are so creative and innovative.”

Liberty has entered 16 apps in this year’s competition. Pupils came up with ideas to help students deal with grieving, bullying and minor injuries when they’re home alone. There are several programs that deal with school scheduling.

“Sixth-graders … have a hard time being organized. They have a hard time remembering to complete all their homework because they have so many classes,” Peterson said.

One of those unique entrants, Peterson said, is the Sadness to Happiness app. It directs students to people and publications to help them deal with the loss of a loved one or a pet.

“I find that just to be unique because there are so many students that are going through the grieving process and they might not reach out to a counselor or a parent or an adult ,” Peterson said. “This gives them some strategies on how to cope through that process.”

State winners, which will be announced on Jan. 6, will be awarded tablets and $5,000 for their schools or nonprofit organizations. Grand prize winners will get $20,000 and the chance to build their apps with Massachusetts Institute of Technology media lab experts.

Peterson believes she has some of those experts in the making.

“I know that a lot of these students are going to go on to some sort of coding or application to use what they have learned from this Verizon app challenge,” she said.

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