April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Hauser students win state innovation award

By By Paul [email protected]

Officials at Hauser Jr./Sr. High School are using words like "phenomenal" and "amazing" to describe an eighth-grade team's development of what has been recognized as the best mobile phone app in the state.

Verizon Wireless chose the eight-member team from teacher Deborah Gaff's Project Lead the Way class as "Best in State" in the 2015 Verizon Innovative App Challenge, a national effort to spark student interest in high-tech careers. Despite competition from much larger schools, Hauser was the only middle school in the state to garner the distinction, and one of only two state schools to do so overall.

Gaff praised her students for following meticulous steps to conceptualize an app that would help solve real problems at the local middle school if that app was ever developed. Called "Speak Bot Pro," the app would let students who can't speak clearly in the classroom because of medical or language barriers use icons to communicate verbally with teachers.

"We had teachers tell them they would use it," Gaff said.

Hauser's victory wins for them a $5,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation and computer tablets for each team member. Gaff said some of that money could go toward developing the app into a tool teachers can use.

She'd said a great short cut to that end would come by taking advantage of a potential perk for whichever school garners the greatest fan support. From now until Jan. 31, anyone can help Hauser win the Fan Favorite award by texting SPEAKBOT2 to 22333. The winner will receive an additional $15,000 and the chance to work with experts from the MIT Media Lab to turn its concept into a working app.

All recognition aside, Gaff said she is most proud of her students for the qualities they demonstrated that made success possible.

She said she found out about the Verizon challenge in October, after which she asked her class whether anyone would be interested in participating. Several students stepped forward who ultimately would make up the team. Those team members are Parker Eickbush, Dillon Garwood, Chloe Kennedy, Kaalob Schmidt, Skylar Sharp, Derek Stenneski, Ethan Wallace and Caleb Wasson.

All went to work immediately by interviewing teachers and others in the community to figure out what kind of an app was worth developing, Gaff said. They settled on the language barrier app and developed the concept by the November deadline. Along the way, they also came up with a three-minute video and a 30-second commercial that are available for viewing on the Youtube website.

People can key in "Hauser High School Speakbot" to find it.

Gaff said the assignment allowed the students to demonstrate qualities that someday will prove appealing to potential employers. She said the students worked as a team, solved problems and communicated every step of the way.

Hauser Principal J.P. Mayer credited Gaff with leading her students in a way that would bring them together for a common goal. He said the resulting accolades might even inspire other students to take creative risks in the future.

The winning team members, who are just enjoying the moment, have accepted an invitation to appear before the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. Board for its 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend.[[In-content Ad]]