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Middle Township High School Students Chosen as Award Winners of Statewide Innovation Competition

The team’s unofficial leader was inspired by a deep connection to sign language to create their award-winning app

Middle Township High School STEAM Tank Challenge Team posing for a photo in front of their new phone application prototype

Kristen Kallock, Emily Mawhinney, Angelina Maffei, Julia Quinn and Charlotte Grayson, seniors at Middle Township High School, designed an app called What’s the Sign and entered it in the STEAM Tank Challenge.

Cape May Court House, NJ – Five Middle Township High School (MTHS) students have been chosen as an award-winning team of the 2021 Virtual STEAM Tank Challenge by The New Jersey School Boards Association sponsored by the U.S. Army. Overall, the team of seniors won third in their high school division with an app inspired by a deep connection to issues enabling communication.

As a team, MTHS seniors Angelina Maffei, Charlotte Grayson, Kristen Kallok, Julia Quinn, and Emily Mawhinney designed an app called What’s the Sign, which translates sign language unlike any other translator on the market, and entered it in The STEAM Tank Challenge. Their prototype not only translates, but also animates words, not just letters, in sign language by utilizing GIFs. Many of these students have been working on the prototype since middle school, entering the competition numerous times until they were able to perfect the app.

“The main goal is to be able to bridge the gap that’s in society,” said unofficial team leader, Angelina Maffei. “…make it more of an inclusive place and be able to connect more people.”

Maffei, who hopes to someday become a special education teacher, has a deep connection with the challenges some may face with communicating with those who are non-verbal. She was inspired to create the app by her twin brother, Nicholas, who has down syndrome, and uses sign language to better communicate. Her hopes are that this app helps him and others more easily connect and communicate.

The team tested out their prototype with their local deaf community, who they say responded well. They also interviewed numerous professionals in the technology field like specialists at INTEL and interviewed special education teachers at their school.

“I am constantly amazed by our students,” said Superintendent Dr. Dave Salvo. “Their dedication to the creation of something that could potentially change the way we engage with those who aren’t able to communicate just as you or I would, it’s beyond their years. I’m humbled by their passion and so proud of the recognition they’ve brought to the district.”

Competition judges found What’s the Sign impressive and innovative. Not only was it award-winning for their division, but the team was also recognized in two special categories, Social and Emotional Learning, as well as Innovative Use of Technology.

Open to K-12 public school students in New Jersey, the competition encourages students to apply science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) in response to current world issues. According to the New Jersey School Board Association website, the challenge lets students contribute to making the country sustainable, healthy, equitable, and safe.

This year, over 350 teams entered the STEAM Tank Challenge statewide, 240 of which made it to the regional competition. Finalists then went on to compete against the remaining 111 student teams in grades K-12 from October 4 to October 22.

The award winners were honored during a virtual ceremony on October 27 at 6 p.m. and the schools were presented with prize money on behalf of PSEG Foundation, a STEAM Tank Challenge sponsor.