Essex High’s recycling, composting app selected as Vermont winner for national STEM competition

EHS students meet to discuss the creation of their smart phone recycling and composting app

Essex High School (EHS) and its dedication to excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have advanced in a nationwide contest with one of the best projects in the country.

EHS was recently named as the Vermont state winner for Samsung’s 10th Solve for Tomorrow competition. 100 winners were selected with at least one stemming from each state; while California (6), New York (5), Texas (5), and others had multiple schools chosen to advance, Essex High was the only one from the Green Mountain State to make the cut.

Combating climate change by improving waste disposal practices was the focus of EHS’ project. That included the idea for the development of a smart phone app, a short PSA video, and posters which will all help people understand what can be recycled, what can be composted, and what should be put into the trash.

The proposal was a collaborative effort put forth by the EHS STEM Academy, the Environmental Club, and the mobile app development course taught at the high school. The smart phone app, which is hoped to be made publically once it is finalized, will give people instant advice about which receptacle they should be placing an item in.

Supervising the project were Essex High science teachers Erin Bessy and Kelly Hill, along with math teacher and STEM Academy Leader Lea Ann Smith.

“It’s great,” Hill said about being selected as a state winner. “I think one of the exciting things is that it brings more awareness to what we’re trying to do. Having more people hear about the importance of recycling and proper waste disposal, to me, is the best part about it. The main thing is to improve our school, and if we can get plastic from going into the landfill, then that right there is the winner.”

After receiving a Samsung Galaxy Tab for being a state finalist, Essex High will get an additional $15,000 in classroom resources and Samsung technology products. The students will now create and submit a three-minute video to pitch their project in an attempt to be one of 20 national finalists. If selected, EHS would then head to New York in April to present a prototype to a panel of judges with the hope of being one of five national winners.

“I think we have a good chance; the app gives us a strong proposal,” Hill said about the prospect of moving on even further in the competition. “Because it’s Samsung--a technology company--the app is a good selling point. Our mentor said that’s what definitely got their attention. We’ve [competed] before, but I think [this project] is stronger than anything we’ve had in the past.”

Timing was key for the EHS STEM community as it had already been looking at recycling and composting when the contest’s deadline drew near. The teachers then thought it made great sense to build an app which could push their efforts even further and make for a competitive proposal.

“From the students’ perspective, the hope was to eventually improve not just recycling--but also our compost within the school,” said Bessy. “We looked at the recycling first and did an audit. The students collected all the recycling from the school for one day and then spent three days going through it--seeing if there were things in the recycling bin that should have been in the trash or should have been composted. And then there was a core group of people in the Environmental Club that really wanted to improve our composting. So that’s where the data came from, first.”

The next step saw the various groups of the high school come together and provide their respective knowledge of STEM, recycling and composting practices, and app development.

“We were all super excited about yesterday’s meeting,” Bessy commented, “because we introduced what the kids have to do, got them at a table, and then they just went around and knew what they were looking for. Kids were drawing stuff--what they want to put in the app--and one kid from the apps class asked, ‘So what do you want the format to be? Do you want to scroll down, or have a search engine?’ So there were questions that the kids in the Environmental Club didn’t even know to ask, and yet the app kids knew to ask them.

“And I have to say,” Bessy continued, “that: later last night, I was talking to my daughter--who is an engineer and works with mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers--and she was explaining her meeting yesterday. It sounded exactly like what our kids were doing; so we’re actually doing what professionals do in the field.”

While the $15,000 worth of goodies is a most-welcomed prize, the teachers expressed that seeing their students go through the creative process is almost as equally rewarding.

“It’s the thing that--when you go home at night, it just makes you so excited about your day,” said Hill. “It’s like a story you tell whoever’s at home: ‘Oh, guess what we did today.’ So it’s very inspiring. I think anytime we can have the students doing things, and we get to sit back and watch, it’s just amazing.”

“This is the shining moment of teaching--when you get to see that light bulb go off,” Bessy noted. “To see them pulling it all together yesterday, and they were very animated--that was a great teaching moment.”

Recommended for you