WeConnect wins Rep. Pete Aguilar’s 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 31st District

Rep. Pete Aguilar has named Varun Srivastava, Shriyaa Narayanan, Abhisri Narayanan, and Dexter Xu of Redlands High School as the winners of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 31st District.

When asked what inspired the creation of WeConnect, the students said, “We are all high school students from Redlands High School as well as office bearers of STEM for All Foundation, which is committed to providing access and equitable STEM opportunities for all students (www.stemforallfoundation.com). As part of the foundation work, we develop the curriculum that is used to train students, teachers, and administrators in coding, robotics, and engineering design. As part of this effort we have developed several applications using Scratch, App Lab, Alice, and Python to create awareness on issues that impact our community in general and students specifically like the environment, bullying, civic responsibility, substance abuse, need to mask and vaccination, etc.

Due to the continued risk of COVID-19 in San Bernardino County and an advisory from the San Bernardino Department of Public Health, Redlands Unified School District (RUSD) started the 2020-21 school year in distance learning mode. The impact of COVID-19 disruption due to the distance learning instructional format, lack of universal access to technology, isolation, traumatic experiences, and high levels of stress have contributed to the “compromised” student engagement, learning loss, and increased mental health issues amongst students. The detrimental impact was magnified for students from low income families, students with disabilities,  students living in multifamily homes, students without stable housing or those without internet connectivity thereby exacerbating the existing opportunity and equity gaps in our community.

While learning suffered a setback for all students, the detrimental impact of the pandemic, including increased stress and anxiety, led to the degradation of mental health, especially in high school students. Isolation due to stringent social distancing guidelines only exacerbated the situation. For most high school students, school was the only place where they engaged in their most meaningful relationships and that was taken away from them. All the above factors have severely impacted motivation, engagement, and participation in classrooms as these students prepare for college and/or career. Sustaining student motivation especially for the most vulnerable students was the primary goal of the WeConnect app in order to address students’ social and emotional needs, mental well being, and mitigating learning loss.”

The 2021 Congressional App Challenge yielded 2,101 fully functioning apps. After eighteen months of disruptions to educational cadences for students everywhere, the Congressional App Challenge came roaring back with 7,174 students registering for this year’s competition. All told, 340 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in their districts across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, theCoderSchool, Facebook, Replit, Accenture, and others.

The 2022 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2022, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.