Students Win Hackathon with Suicide Prevention App

On October 27, AVID team members seniors Jesus Caballero, Gloria Carbajal, Estefani Gomez, Katie Gomez, Dafne Hernandez and a fifth grader competed against over 25 other teams in the Level the Coding Field hackathon hosted at the Mountain View Computer History Museum. “The Screaming Eagles” team took home first place, winning six Android Ubislate Tablets and a total of $3000 in prize money, which they split among themselves equally for $500 each.

Although AVID has not participated in an event like this before, AVID teachers encouraged students to sign up, believing the hackathon was an opportunity for AVID students interested in the technological fields to gain exposure and experience.

The event aimed to give students underrepresented in computer science an opportunity to gain technology skills. Participants spent 18 hours over two days designing and building a mobile application that addresses a problem in the real world.

“A lot of people took that [prompt] in the direction of the environment, so they wanted to do stuff about global warming,” Estefani said. “We, on the other hand, were thinking about social problems because as teenagers we see these problems being addressed daily.”

“The Screaming Eagles” developed an application to raise awareness of suicide as well as help potential suicide victims through their struggle.

“Everyone says, ‘Be happy, be positive,’ but nothing out there really helps; you either have the support or you don’t,” Estefani said.

Initially, the students were not grouped into the same team. In spite of this setback, the team was eventually able to exchange themselves with other participants for the ability to work with familiar peers.

“The funny thing is, the other groups that ended up winning were composed of the people we switched with to form our own group,” Estefani said.

The team, with no prior experience in computer science, was guided through the development process of mobile apps. They were first instructed to brainstorm the key elements of their app. After much thought, the team decided they would write an app to promote self-counseling for potential suicide victims. The app included a connection to suicide hotlines, facts about suicide prevention and a diary to help victims express their emotions.

“The way we made [the app] kind of fun in a way was that, when you’re making your account you get to choose to be a male or a female, a type of Pokemon or a flower, anything you choose,” Estefani said. “So on day one, you start out as a egg, or a seed, and then it grows and grows, and the leaves come out, and then the flower comes out, and that makes you want to keep doing the app.”

After outlining their app’s features, they used myBalsamiq to program their content. MyBalsamiq allows users to design the user interface of their mobile applications not only for the Android platform, but also for iOS and Windows phones.

Throughout the competition, the two volunteer advisors that were assigned to the team encouraged the team to learn how to create the application themselves.

“The counselors did teach us how to program, but at the same time they left it open to us to learn for ourselves,” Estefani said. “So whenever we really did get stuck on something, they’d help us. But, when they didn’t, they would say, ‘Play with it and see what you can learn.’”

The students not only learned about computer science, but also learned about collaborating with a team and testing one’s abilities.

“[The hackathon] taught me a lot about working with a group of people,” Dafne said. “We built something together, and the outcome was great. It taught me about myself and what I could do. I didn’t know I could build an app in two days.”

After splitting the prize money, the team members each decided how to spend the money in their own ways.

“I’m going to save it for college,” Estefani said. “At least half of it because I have other expenses too.”

As of November 14, the press deadline, the team planned on participating in the Level Playing Field Institute hackathon from November 16 to 17. The event was hosted at the ConneXion building near Jack London Park in Santa Rosa.