Someday, Cheryl Spain imagines, students who are taking a new middle school app-development class offered this year in the South-Western City School District will consider the course an early stepping stone in their career path.

"It's giving them some real-world application of skills that I think will help prepare them for jobs and career fields that aren't even known yet," said Spain, the district's executive director of middle grades, gifted and testing.

The class is one of four new electives students at each of the district's five middle schools are able to take this school year.

The other electives are entrepreneurship, personal finance and strength/fitness.

The app-development course almost could be considered three classes rolled into one, Spain said.

Along with working on app development, which focuses on creating an app addressing a problem facing the school or community, students also work on coding using devices provided through a partnership with Ohio State University and Apple and robotics using Sphero, a robotic ball participants program with tablets to complete maneuvers and play games.

"It's a good mix of activities so students aren't working on just one thing," Spain said. "It helps keep them interested and motivated because they're involved in a variety of projects."

Each elective class is a semester course.

They are part of a list, along with band, choir, orchestra and study hall, from which middle school students can select two for each semester, Spain said.

"The electives offer class choices that we hope will excite students and reduce the number of students taking study hall," she said. "It offers more variety and meaningful class offerings for students, and also provides more variety of classes for our teachers to teach."

During the first semester, about 400 middle school students took the app-development class at their building, Spain said. About the same number are taking the class in the second semester.

There were 225 students who signed up for the entrepreneurship class in the first semester, with 475 students enrolling in personal finance and 300 participating in the strength/fitness class, she said.

"The number of students in each class is determined in part by the number of students who expressed an interest in that elective and how many classes we can hold depending on available staff at each school," Spain said.

About 3,300 students are enrolled in the middle schools this year, which includes both seventh and eighth grades, she said.

Students mostly worked on developing their app ideas in teams of two to four students, said Travis Wood, career education technology specialist at the South-Western Career Academy. Some students worked individually on app ideas.

Wood helped coordinate an App Showcase Jan. 8 at the career academy.

Two or three teams from each middle school were invited to showcase their projects at the event, he said.

The teams set up displays in the school cafeteria and told visitors about their ideas. The teams also made a pitch before a panel of judges.

"They could receive a gold, silver or bronze certificate based on the results from the panel of judges," Wood said. "The panel used a variety of rubrics to evaluate the apps, including the quality of the team's idea, whether it would be feasible to produce, if it would effectively impact the problem they were attempting to address and the quality of the pitch itself."

Twelve teams from the five middle schools participated in the showcase.

Five teams earned gold certificates:

* Finland Middle School: Fun with Learning app, Dakota Banks.

* Pleasant View Middle School: Go Green app, Hayden Harrison and Emma Frye.

* Pleasant View Middle School: Speedy Pass app, Fatima Ahmed.

* Jackson Middle School: Doggy Data app, Ax Stoll, Zach Akers, Zayden Johnson and Jacob Plotner.

* Jackson Middle School: DoctorFire app, Madison Chafins, Kadyn Hyer and Nora Chesshir.

The idea for the Doggy Data app came to his team after Franklin County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Earl Smith paid a visit to Jackson Middle School, Jacob said.

"We didn't realize the sheriff's department has dogs they take with them to provide comfort to people," he said. "They aren't dogs that are used to catch drug users or anything like that."

According to the sheriff's office website, the department's therapy-dog program has three canines and law enforcement staff trained to offer assistance for victims who are suffering mental, physical or psychological effects from trauma. The program was established in 2017 with Mattis K. Nine, who was the first law-enforcement therapy dog in Ohio and the sixth in the nation, according to the department.

Interacting with a dog can be helpful to a child who has been abused or in an accident or to crime victim who is upset, Zach said.

Doggy Data would provide a way for those people to tell the sheriff's office how interacting with a dog helped them or ways the program could be improved, he said.

"You could access the survey at the time the deputies are with you or later on at home on your device," Jacob said. "The goal would be to help the sheriff's office make the program more helpful for people based on the feedback they get."

The app-development class was fun, he said.

"I like working with technology, so this was the kind of class I was excited to be able to take in middle school," Jacob said.

Zach said he liked working with his team to come up with an idea and then working together to troubleshoot the technicalities.

The Go Green app he and Emma designed would help add a gaming element to encourage people to identify and clean up trash-filled areas, Hayden said.

"What this app is about basically is that there is so much trash in the world (and) it should be picked up," Emma said. "So much of the trash is going to our marine life and the marine animals are dying."

Go Green would feature a map with triangles, Hayden said.

"You tap on one of the triangles and it will take you to a trash site where you can go pick up the trash," he said.

App users could add and map trash sites when they find them and post pictures of their own waste-collection efforts on the app's murals, Hayden said.

"Every trash site has a load and the app tells you how many people you need to pick up the trash," he said.

App users can collect points to earn spots on a leadership board as they clean up sites, Hayden said.

Prizes and gift cards could be offered to those who finish high up on the leaderboard, he said.

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