SWIS Students Earn Congressional Commendations

by | Jan 23, 2017

Eight students from Swanson Road Intermediate School earned Congressional Commendations for their submissions to the Congressional App Challenge this fall.

Jayda Booker, Julia Brytkowski, Nathan Gawronski, Makayla Gillette, Dominic Potenti, Olivia Salem, Jevin Ta and Jenna Whitsett were each awarded Congressional commendations from Congressman James McGovern (D-Worcester) for their achievement.

Working with Media Specialist Instructor, Sarah Connell, the group of students built on a project begun last year. The students at SWIS have been working on mapping and revitalizing the James Courville Arboretum located on the Vine St. side of the Swanson Rd. Intermediate School.

This past fall, the group of fourth and fifth grade students began developing apps that related to the arboretum.

In the early 1970s, Junior High School teacher James Courville developed a plan to install an arboretum – a botanical garden devoted to trees – to replace the “dirt pit” that had occupied the corner for years., In 1975, he had laid out a plan for the arboretum, and had raised enough money to plant 25 trees, all native species. While he was able to realize his dream of establishing the arboretum, he never got to watch it mature. In early 1979, Courville tragically died in a scuba diving accident.

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Last year, some of Courville’s descendants uncovered documents related to the arboretum and approached Swanson Road Intermediate School (SWIS) administrators about researching and revitalizing the space. The school took on the challenge, and the fourth and fifth grade classes have been using the arboretum in various ways as part of their curriculum for more than a year.

Ms. Connell decided to challenge her students using a contest as an incentive.

“The Congressional App Challenge is designed for high school students” said Connell at a presentation on January 18 at SWIS. “But we read through the rules, and there was nothing against younger students entering.”

According to the Congressional App Challenge web site, “The Congressional App Challenge (CAC) is a competition aimed at encouraging U.S. high school students to learn how to code by creating their own applications. The Challenge is intended to highlight the value of computer science and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and encourage students to engage in these fields.”

Enter they did. There were three apps developed by the groups of students: ‘Beat the Beetles’; ‘Tree Trace’; and Arboretum Leaf Trace’. All three apps are free and are available to anyone via Google Play (available only for Android) . You can find them by following the previous link, searching for the apps by name, or search for “SWIS App Inventor”.

The apps created by the SWIS students are designed to combine learning about the arboretum, and fun for the user.

“We tried to make them like a little game, but with facts about the trees, too”,  said one of the students.

While the budding app developers from SWIS did not win the contest, they did earn the title of the youngest students to enter since the program’s inception. In recognition, Congressman James McGovern (D-Worcester) issued proclamations to each of the students, which were presented on Thursday.

Addressing the students, Vice Principal Michael Lavelle said, “This is a tremendous honor to be recognized by our Congressman for your accomplishments. It’s a really big deal.”