SEL Central wins Rep. Don Bacon’s 2021 Congressional App Challenge in Nebraska’s Second District

Rep. Don Bacon has named Akshay Mehta, Jack Cenovic, and Claire Cenovic from Brownell Talbot as the winners of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in Nebraska’s Second District.

When asked what inspired the creation of SEL Central, the students said, “We were pushed to create SEL Central in order to increase the accessibility of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) among elementary school students.

The three of us have worked to spread educational opportunities and empower students while serving on the leadership team of an international service organization which we co-founded, called JuSTEMagine. The mission of JuSTEMagine is to spread STEM and SEL to students, helping them build a belief in their abilities and themselves.

JuSTEMagine’s partnership with SPARKPositivity, an SEL-focused organization, has taught us much about SEL education. Through a volunteer project, our three group members created an SEL video curriculum — referred to as the “Ignite Our Future video curriculum”– about SEL topics that align with national education standards. The focuses of these videos include traits such as respect, responsibility, friendship, and gratitude.

After delving into the scientific research behind SEL, we learned of its importance even further. Research clearly confirms SEL’s importance. The Institute of Education Sciences found that SEL teaching results in significant improvements in social and emotional skills, attitudes about school, self, and others, and mental health. Additionally, according to a 2011 Child Development study involving over 270,000 students, participation in SEL programs improves a student’s academic performance by 11 percentile points on average.

Despite clear indications of the benefits of SEL for student academic performance and mental health, access to SEL education opportunities is lacking for many students. A 2018 Edsurge article explains that SEL has often “remained on the sidelines,” as many educators focus solely on academics.

After working with SEL extensively, we felt inspired to create an app that would help spread this type of education to students. SEL Central includes our SEL curriculum, and it enables students to access the curriculum in a user-friendly way. Through our Ignite Our Future video curriculum and the SEL Central app, we hope to stimulate intellectual and emotional growth among students.”

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.