High School Student Hopes New App Will Make Hartford Safer

After her friend was shot and killed, a Hartford high school student developed an app to help cut crime

HARTFORD — The death of a friend shot and killed in Hartford in October gave Carilianna Felix, a senior at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, an idea for a mobile app.

"He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they meant to kill someone else, but of course he was there, sadly, and they took his life," Felix said of her friend.

She came up with the idea to create an app that would let people report crimes anonymously with a tap on their cellphone, alerting police to gang activity, theft or other crimes.

Felix worked with three other girls, who called themselves the Lady Phoenix team, and together they created the Say Something app.

Felix was one of hundreds of students who worked this year under the guidance of their computer science teachers, all of whom received training at Trinity College through a program called the Mobile Computer Science Principles project.

On Tuesday, about 100 of those students from nine high schools presented their new apps at Trinity and voted on whose they liked the best. The Lady Phoenix's app came in second.

First prize went to Frank Kulak for a game app called Gravity. Kulak is a student at University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford.

Other apps included Fat Facts, an app developed by Connor Gillis, a senior at Trumbull High School. It provides students with not only the number of calories in their lunch, but also counsels them, if the number of calories is over 800, that they might want to cut back on dinner.

Indianna Allen, a ninth-grader at the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy in East Hartford, had an app called Free Me that provided jokes for small children who want to entertain themselves or their friends.

And Daniel Scalzi and two friends from Westhill High School in Stamford wanted to shorten a late bus ride home after school, so they developed Bus Router, which would provide the bus driver with the most efficient route to take when delivering students home.

The app expo day is part of a National Science Foundation-funded project led by Ralph Morelli, a Trinity College professor of computer science.

The effort is designed to train high school educators to teach computer science through the use of app development.

"There's a national crisis in computer science education," Morelli said. "The main problem is one word: equity. Not enough girls in high school and K-12 and underrepresented minorities are studying computer science … If you leave them out, then you don't have enough people in computer science."

The computer science principles class is based "on the idea that if you get kids building mobile apps, they'll want to study computer science to help them build the apps they care about," Morelli said.

The project started three years ago, when the National Science Foundation granted Trinity $900,000 to train Connecticut teachers in computer science principles. Next year, students will be able to take an Advanced Placement test in the subject.

Morelli said that about 40 Connecticut teachers have been trained at Trinity, and 100 more from around the country have been trained online. Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded a supplemental grant of $1.2 million that will allow Morelli to present the online program to a larger number of teachers, as well as expand it to nine satellite locations around the country.

Felix said she's hoping the app she developed with her team will be of interest to the Hartford Police Department.

The app would not replace 911 calls, but would offer an anonymous way for residents to let police know about crime in their neighborhoods. James Veseskis, Felix's teacher, said he thinks it would help police know where to allocate their resources.

Hartford Deputy Chief Brian Foley said he met with the girls "early on and we thought it was a great idea" and that the department will "revisit with them shortly" to discuss it.

"We are encouraged by it, we support it and are helping them and will continue to help them along the way," Foley said. "We are always looking for new ways to report crimes … All the social media has been a big help."

Felix and her Lady Phoenix team members, including Briana Covia, Chamara Wiggins and MaKenna Lindsay, say that in general girls aren't all that interested in computer science, but they hope to see that change.

Felix initially dropped out of the class, explaining, "I didn't want anything to do with computers. I thought they were difficult and I thought they were dumb."

However, she had a friend, Chamara, in the class and decided to stay in it. She aced the class, and her Say Something app advanced to the semifinals in the worldwide Technovation Challenge for girls before it came in second place in Tuesday's expo at Trinity.

"Come to find out, [computers] are pretty interesting and our world is the way it is because of computer science," Felix said.

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