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South Fayette students win national award for safety app

Jim Spezialetti
| Wednesday, May 11, 2016, 3:51 p.m.
South Fayette students who created the BusBudE app are (front, from left) Anish Thangavelu, Meghan Banerjee and Vinay Pedapati; back row, Parv Shrivastava, Joe Cavanaugh, Sam Cohen and Nick Wilke.
South Fayette students who created the BusBudE app are (front, from left) Anish Thangavelu, Meghan Banerjee and Vinay Pedapati; back row, Parv Shrivastava, Joe Cavanaugh, Sam Cohen and Nick Wilke.

South Fayette middle and high school students are developing an app to help parents track when their children get on and off the school bus.

The seven-student team won a National Infosys Maker Award and a $10,000 grant for their BusBudE app.

The grant will help create a “maker space,” for students to design projects, at the high school, district Superintendent Bille Rondinelli said.

Team members are senior Meghan Banerjee, juniors Joe Cavanaugh, Sam Cohen and Nick Wilke, freshman Vinay Pedapati and eighth-graders Anish Thangavelu and Parv Shrivastava.

“Most of the students did not know each other before they started working together,” said Aileen Owens, South Fayette's director of technology and innovation. “I watched them come together as a team. They persevered and became more than colleagues. They became friends.”

Shrivastava, who was the co-project manager with Cavanaugh, said the students read an article about a child being dropped off at the wrong stop. “We decided we wanted to make bus transportation safer,” he said.

Under the direction of Owens, the students were able to bring the project to fruition.

Owens said the app fills a large void in the marketplace for products and services focused on keeping students safe on their journey to and from school.

Students would receive a Near Field Communication, or NFC, tag that can be attached to their bookbag. When students board the bus, they would scan the tag to an NFC reader on a phone. The application would take the student information on the tag and send a text message to the child's parents or designated caregiver.

The students worked on the project beginning in the fall of 2014. Banerjee joined the group a few months later.

“I thought it was really interesting,” said Banerjee, who plans to study computer science in college.

The app was created for the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, but the South Fayette team didn't win. The students, however, realized there was a greater purpose, said Cohen, who was an initial member of the team and directed the computer programming.

“If we had stopped working on the app simply because the competition ended, we would have missed the deeper learning that occurs when taking a product to maturity,” Owens said. “With each challenge came a new solution.”

The team continues to beta-test the app.

“I really like the fact that it appeals to younger users and gives adults peace of mind,” said Pedapati, who worked on the programming aspect.

The award presentation also kicked off Remake Learning Week. South Fayette hosted educators from across the country to showcase how the district has incorporated computational thinking into the district's curriculum.

Jim Spezialetti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5805.

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