Students from local school, Hillsdale Middle School in El Cajon, have been selected as regional finalists in Verizon’s Innovative App Challenge. Their app idea, "The Digital Learning Tutor" enables students to easily find digital tutoring resources that can help them improve on their own if they can’t get help immediately. This will help fill any gaps left by the school system or the unavailability of parents to assist with homework. Because they won Best in Region, they have earned their school a $5,000 cash grant, plus virtual training on coding and support from MIT’s Media Lab app development experts to help make their app a reality.

24 teams were selected as Best in Region out of 81 state teams. Hillsdale Middle School will now compete against schools from the rest of the nation for the top 8 spots in the Best in Nation competition. Their app answers the calling that Verizon’s Innovative App Challenge gave, which challenges students to develop a concept for a mobile app that would help solve a problem in their school or community.

Next week, they will be competing for the Best in Nation contest with an in-person presentation that will qualify them for a $15,000 grant for their school to help support or launch a STEM program. Also, each wining member will receive a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, thanks to Samsung Telecom America. In addition to that, MIT’s Media Lab will provide on-site and virtual training on coding and support the Best in Nation teams as they develop their apps. Verizon will also provide support by helping them bring their apps to the Google Play Store, which means that these apps will be targeted towards the Android marketplace, rather than the Apple App Store and iOS.

Winning Best In Region would be a huge honor for these students as they and their app concept now are in the running to win Best In Nation. Student teams with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests from across the country submitted more than 770 app concepts. Nearly 1,300 teams entered the contest, and almost 40 percent of them were from underserved schools.

Personally, I learned programming concepts back when I was in elementary school and as a result I was interested in programming enough to start learning Java and basic C language when I was in middle school. Obviously not everyone has the opportunity to pay for these programs or to attend private schools that support such early age programming. Because of that, it is awesome to see Verizon and MIT encouraging children to pick up coding at earlier ages when they are able to pick up languages more easily and can start molding their minds to think like programmers. I have to admit that it is a really valuable skill for a kid to already know how to code before they leave highschool, because it will make their highschool lives interesting as they could earn money building websites for friends and family and possibly even help pay for college. The new ‘painting houses for college’ with code instead.