Midway High School freshman Stephanie Starks was recently named runner-up in the 2022 Congressional App Challenge in Texas’ 17th Congressional District. She was recognized for her work developing the app Magic Plants, which teaches users about plants through an interactive game.
The Congressional App Challenge is hosted annually by members of the U.S. House of Representatives in districts across the country with the goal of encouraging students to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. This year’s competition set the record for most apps submitted with 9,011 students registering to participate.
“It’s exciting for a freshman to take the jump and try something like this because it’s a national competition,” Midway High School computer science teacher Susan Jones said. “It’s really cool that she tried it in the first place, but even better that she got to be recognized for her hard work.”
Starks began developing her award-winning app for a project in an introductory computer science class offered through Midway’s Career and Technical Education program. After she submitted the class assignment, she continued building out her ideas for the app on her own time, completing the majority of the work for her submission outside of school. Although she had no previous computer science or coding experience before enrolling in the class, Starks embraced the opportunity to learn.
“I think the most challenging part since I was so new, was actually figuring out how to code it,” Starks said. “I never really knew what coding was before, but this project really opened my eyes, and I grew so much. I probably wouldn’t have thought of the idea if it wasn’t for our project, but when I did, it was really truly amazing.”
Midway offers a full pathway for students to explore and broaden their knowledge of the possibilities in the field of computer science starting in middle school. Once they reach high school, computer science is available as one of their career and technical education classes with the option to continue on paths in programming and cybersecurity.
“We’re still adding on to the courses we’re offering, and the program is still growing,” Jones said. “We’ve added a cyber capstone course to the pathway, and we have a project-based research practicum which is two class periods where students can work on individual projects and dive deeper.”
In first-year computer science, students begin learning to code using block-based programming, which turns text-based code into visual blocks of pre-written code that users drag and drop to create programs. More advanced classes focus on text-based programming languages such as Java and Python and teach students how to manage internet data with programming.
As Project Lead the Way courses, Midway High School’s computer science classes are all project-based with a focus on hands-on learning. While Starks is just starting out in computer science, she said creating her app was such a fun experience that she sees herself taking additional computer science courses in the future.
“She’s great in class,” Jones said. “She asks questions, helps other students with questions, and she’s a good problem-solver. I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.”