2100 Panther Path, Point Pleasant, NJ 08742  |  (732) 701-1900  

Boro students win big in Congressional App Challenge

When used effectively, technology enhances standards-based learning across the curriculum. Because technological fluency is essential for living and workCongressional App Challenge Winnersing in the 21st century and beyond, the Point Pleasant School District has made every effort to integrate technology into virtually every classroom and curriculum content area.

The goal of technological lessons is to teach students to become independent, responsible and effective users of information and technology. Through daily, interdisciplinary technology use, students learn to conduct research, solve problems, and think critically while gaining the essential communication and vocational skills that are necessary for success in the global economy.

“The Point Pleasant School District offers diverse opportunities for students to not only become proficient users of computers and mobile technology but also learn valuable programming and back end design skills,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. “These opportunities have better prepared our students for the technological demands that await them at college and in in their professional lives and have provided them with increased opportunities to achieve success.”

The technology-based educational opportunities available in Point Pleasant Borough High School teacher Nick Gattuso’s class continue to go a step further, not only providing students with opportunities to gain valuable professional experience but also allowing them to put their technological savvy to use to affect meaningful change with the development of a series of specialized applications and programs for their fellow students and members of the community.

The understanding that students taking his classes will use their programming skills to affect positive change stems from Mr. Gattuso’s idealistic approach to computer programming – both as a teacher and in practice – which has been inspired by a moral imperative to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Over the last 15 or so years, Mr. Gattuso and his students have earned a reputation for dedicating classroom projects to affect positive change in their school and the community.

“I try to teach my students how to use their programming, engineering and problem-solving skills for good,” said Mr. Gattuso.

Congressional App Challenge AwardTheir work also tends to earn Mr. Gattuso’s students recognition and acclaim for their programming work.

“The awards and recognition they receive for doing outstanding works speaks not only to their programming skills and talent but also to their dedication and how seriously they view the responsibility to put their talents to good use,” he said.

When each new project is introduced, Mr. Gattuso assembles his students into project management teams that mirror a professional work environment. Each team features a resource manager, technical manager and lead programmer, who work collaboratively to complete the assigned project. He also ensures the students know exactly for whom they are designing each project and the potential impact it could have on the life of the recipient, leading to unique opportunities for collaboration and inclusive learning.

Panthers Assisted Learning Software, or PALS is one such project. The suite of assistive learning applications that have been in development by Mr. Gattuso’s students over the last six years are designed for students enrolled in the high school’s Life Skills program for students with multiple disabilities. The apps, which include, a navigational tool to help students new to the Life Skills program navigate the high school; a program to simplify units of liquid measure; a money-changing app; a shopping simulator designed to help the students navigate the supermarket; and PALS HELP, a new collection of apps that help the students perform tasks related to their jobs at Ocean Medical Center.  The PALS apps have earned Mr. Gattuso’s students not only the appreciation of their peers and the teachers from the Life Skills Program but also the recognition of various organizations, like, the NJEA documentary news magazine program Classroom Close-up NJ, which featured a profile of the Mr. Gattuso’s class, students and the apps last year. The PALS initiative has also been honored by the New Jersey Schools Boards Association, who awarded the apps their 2016 Innovations in Special Education Award, as well as finalist standing in the 2017 STEAM TANK Challenge.

Modeled after the popular “Shark Tank” television series, the STEAM Tank Challenge helps promote innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education initiatives taking place in New Jersey schools. Now entering its third year, the Challenge invites school district teams to compete in creative problem-solving.

PALS HELP was one of 15 New Jersey high school projects selected statewide as Competition finalists, and one of two designed by Mr. Gattuso’s students.

In addition to PALS HELP, Mr. Gattuso’s students also presented the Point Pleasant Borough High School App to the judges at the STEAM Tank Challenge. The Point Pleasant Borough High School app, which is available for download on all Android and Apple devices, provides district high school students with key App Challenge Winnersschool information like daily announcements, lunch menus, schedules and calendars as well as local lunch spots and other helpful links. An update made to the app last year added a new security feature that allows the district to send emergency alerts to notify students in the event of a school lockdown situation.

“Our high school has an open lunch policy, allowing students to leave campus during lunch,” said Superintendent Smith. “We struggled with a method by which we could notify students during emergency situations. Where the district’s Instant Alert System fell short, Mr. Gattuso’s students came to the rescue, making modifications to the high school information app based on my and the Point Pleasant Police Department’s specifications. The resulting app meets all the necessary requirements and enables us to send alerts from a secure, web-based control panel. In the event of a lockdown or other emergency, the app will send a text notification advising students not to return to school.”

Mr. Gattuso’s students recently added yet another award to their already impressive list of achievements when the app “Lunch Buddy,” created by group of four of his students was named First Place winner in the Fourth Congressional District’s 2017 Congressional App Challenge.

The Congressional App Challenge is a competition aimed at encouraging U.S. high school students to learn how to code by creating their own applications. One-hundred-ninety-three congressional districts in 43 states participate in the Challenge that is intended to highlight the value of computer science and STEM education, among them is New Jersey’s own 4th District, represented by Congressman Chris Smith.

Representatives from Congressman Smith’s office recently visited Point Pleasant Borough High School, where they presented app designers Adrian Wittmann, Luke Boylan, Theresa Cardone and Jaspreet Kaur with certificates in honor of their app that was designed to assist Life Skills students with finding classmates to sit with at lunchtime.

“The PALS applications as well as the Lunch Buddy app perfectly align with the Life Skills program’s goal of teaching students with multiple disabilities vocational sufficiency while promoting community integration between them and their non-disabled peers,” said Supervisor of Pupil Personnel Services Rita Miller. “These apps provide our students with multiple disabilities with new ways to achieve their potential, ultimately helping them to become independent members of the community.

“Plus, the development of the apps continues to facilitate increased interaction between our students,” she said. “This interaction is central to the inclusive school climate that has been established here in the Point Pleasant School District.”

In addition to receiving a $250 credit for Amazon Web Service to be split among the Congressional App Challenge winners, the students along with Mr. Gattuso - have been invited to attend the “House of Code” App Challenge Reception in Washington DC in the spring. At the reception, they’ll have the opportunity to demo their app for tech industry leaders as well as members of Congress!

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