By HEATHER CATHLEEN COX
LOS FRESNOS – The six students who recently brought national attention to Resaca Middle School of Los Fresnos CISD returned home Sunday night from one of many recent trips to raise awareness for their mobile app, Hello Navi.
Six middle school girls – 12-year-olds Kayleen Gonzalez, Grecia Cano, Cassandra Baquero and Caitlin Gonzales; 13-year-old Jacquelyne Garcia and 11-year-old Janessa Leija – created Hello Navi in an effort to help their visually impaired classmate, Andres Salas, navigate safely through the halls of their school. By measuring a user’s walking stride and combining it with digital building blueprints, the app is designed to provide verbal directions that will help a user navigate spaces with ease.
Hello Navi was one of eight mobile applications to win the Verizon Innovative App Challenge and is the only winning app whose creators—accompanied by their enthusiastic science teacher, Maggie Bolado—were invited, by President Barak Obama, to present their app at the White House.
“We just got back from Washington [D.C] Sunday evening,” said Bolado, who along with the girls traveled to San Francisco to tour some of the Google campuses Monday-Wednesday of last week. They also attended the annual Google I/O Developers’ Conference.
Bolado said she and the girls spent Wednesday, June 25 at the Moscone Center where they (with the administrative team) were honored. “We got a standing ovation from about 6,000 people in the arena!” she said with excitement. The girls’ parents, Principal Asael Ruvalcaba and Andre Salas were among those in attendance.
Immediately following their trip to Google, the Hello Navi creators attended the annual Technology Student Association (TSA) conference in Washington D.C. last Friday-Sunday. Regarding their week of jet-setting, Bolado said, “Personally, myself and the students are exhausted. We went to the White House the latter part of May. We’ve made a couple of trips to Washington in the past three weeks. The girls are overwhelmed by the extent of how far the school project has gotten them.
“All of this is extremely huge for the district. (The exposure is) extremely good recognition for district!” she added.
Bolado’s next project is “to reach out to these big organizations for guidance in the grant writing process.” She further noted, “That’s my commitment as a teacher at Resaca M.S. I want to align my curriculum as best I can with these global citizen processes, to really cement LFISD presence with the ‘big people.’”
Nationwide celebration may be warmly welcomed, but that is certainly not why Hello Navi co-creator Jacquelyne Garcia set out to develop the app. “We first had the inspiration (for developing the app) when we saw Andres struggling in the hallways, bumping into things. That motivated us to create Hello Navi… and at the time we were working on the app, I was not sure the success it would have.”
Hello Navi took months to develop, and as with anything excellent, creating it took sacrifice on the part of its creators. “It took about five months to create,” Garcia said. “Every morning, I had to wake up at seven and get to school by eight to start working on the app. But all the work we did paid off when I went on stage at the Verizon convention. I realized that it paid off to wake up early each morning.”
With a tender heart and desire to motivate others, Garcia shared, “If you’re working on something, you should never give up. It will pay off at the end. You’re capable of doing great things for other people and not just for yourself.”
Another Hello Navi co-creator, Caitlin Gonzales, was one of three lucky students who actually went inside the White House. Of her experience, Gonzales said, “It was exciting to see the President, the White House, and talk to him about the app we created. We all shook his hand, and it was really cool because when we were taking pictures he put his arm around me. He was eager to try the app out and find out how it worked and why we did it.”
Gonzales shared that, before Hello Navi, “I never really had a good idea of what I wanted to be or what I really liked. But now, this experience has taught me (what) people do in technology and what (technicians in) certain fields can do.”
Speaking to the incredible achievement of these six young ladies, Principal Ruvalcaba said, “It’s unreal what these kids are doing at a young age.” He added, “It’s our ultimate goal, as educators, to teach them to be problem solvers. That’s what they were doing. They were looking out for a fellow classmate, to try to solve his problems.”
Hello Navi earned Resaca Middle School a $20,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, which Ruvalcaba said would be utilized to build advancements within the school’s technology systems overall.
In continuing with the technological momentum the district has gained in the whirlwind surrounding Hello Navi’s grand success, Ruvalcaba said, “One of the initiatives we are starting at Los Fresnos is BYOD (bring your own device from home) so the teachers can use them in the classroom. Technology is here. This is the 21st Century. Kids are producing and they are using these devices as something productive.”
For LFCISD to receive so much national publicity for such a worthwhile mobile application, Ruvalcaba is elated. “It’s a great feeling to be recognized by the White House. Just the experience and opportunity the kids and our school have received is incredible, as far as what these kids have been able to accomplish.”
As they gear up for a new year, school officials are beginning to realize that winning the grant and public recognition may just be the beginning of something even bigger for Resaca Middle School. “There has been an impact in our kids at our school. Other students can see what these kids (app developers) are going through—the publicity—and they want to be part of it. Other kids are already asking Mrs. Bolado about next year’s challenge. They want to be a part of this incredible ride.”