By Jill Fox
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are being nationally recognized for inspiring change in Parkland through science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM, education.
Selected from thousands of entries nationwide, the two teams, along with three others from Florida, were named state finalists in the 9th Annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest – a nationwide competition that challenges students to creatively use STEM skills to address problems in their communities.
In the contest, schools had the chance to win a share of $2 million in technology. Open for 6th through 12th grade students, the nationwide competition received more than 2,000 entries covering issues like bullying, lead in water, vaping and school shootings.
This is the first year the science elective STEM class was offered at Stoneman Douglas. The class, consisting of 75 students in all grades is taught by, Itza Sierra and Lori Reich, who left it up to the students to decide if they wanted to participate in the contest.
“The STEM class triggers creative thinking, very open-ended questions, where the students really have to figure out a solution to a problem and work together in groups, communicate, draw information and do research in order to create solutions to problems,” said Reich.
The students formed groups, and two of their submitted entries were chosen as state finalists. Reich said that each of the ideas was student-driven; and showed how these particular students felt they could help their school community.
One group focused on the issue of student accountability. Their proposal explains how staff cannot easily locate students on campus.
For example, if a student is in the bathroom, only their teacher knows their location. The concept included creating an app where, in this case, a teacher could scan a student’s ID badge and give them a digital bathroom pass. The idea is to keep better track of where everyone is at all times and alert teachers when necessary.
Students in this group explained that their program is the first of its kind, and it can be accessible through the simplicity of a student’s ID card and a staff member’s smart electronic device.
The other project centers on mental health.
According to students in this group, they came up with the idea after thinking about the events that occurred on February 14, and how that day has affected their community.
These students also chose to create an app focusing on mental health specialists. The students in this group felt there were a number of students suffering from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and they didn’t always feel comfortable physically seeking help face-to-face. They chose to create an app enabling students to virtually reach out to therapists, guidance counselors or peer counselors on campus at any time. It could be used anonymously, and easily implemented at any school.
“Both of these ideas seem directly related to the aftermath of the shooting, but they are great ideas no matter what the scenario. They are very different and they would both be very impactful,” said Reich.
As a state finalist, MSD will receive a Samsung tablet for their classroom and have the opportunity to advance for additional prizes and educational opportunities.
For the next stage of the competition, both groups are in the process of writing up proposals on how they are going to create their apps, how they will be implemented, and how their effectiveness will be evaluated. If they become one of the 50 state winners, they will receive a $20,000 Samsung technology package and have the chance to advance to the next phase to receive $100,000 in technology and supplies.
Reich said most courses are lecture-based or test-driven but this class gives them the leeway to gear it towards the students’ interests.
“Some kids are knowledgeable on different topics and they have to work together to figure it out. That critical thinking is what life is all about.”
Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She is currently a Senior Account Director at Lon Haber & Co., a leading full-service public relations firm. Fox worked at NBC Miami for eight years after graduating from the University of Miami. She lives in Parkland with her husband, Brian and two children.