High school might never be the same.
You know the familiar announcements promoting campus events that are piped into classrooms over the public address system each morning? At La Cañada High School, that tradition is no more.
This year, students and others interested in campus happenings can keep tabs with a new student-conceived, designed and built app that they’ve named “Spartan Connect.”
It’s free in both the Apple and Google Play stores, and accessible online — at connect.lchsspartans.net — where the introduction reads: “You don’t deserve to listen to minutes of boring announcements. With Spartan Connect, you can tune out the ones you don’t care about and stay connected to the rest.”
In a sign of the times, and in the spirit of saving time, Spartan Connect will be a digital hub where users can filter updates by grade and activity on a straightforward easy-to-navigate platform. Educators will prepare the digital announcements and student administrators on the Spartan Connect team will approve them for the world to see.
Justin Hyon, the user interface designer, said he got the idea from friends who attend other schools where students have started using similar apps. He shared the thought with a couple of tech-savvy friends last school year and they decided to build it together over the summer, thinking it would be a fun, quick project.
They didn’t anticipate the team growing to include nine other students (all but two of them juniors like he) and a project advisor, or how labor-intensive the work would be. Collectively, the group spent hundreds of hours bringing the app to life.
Kevin Mo and Nick Lysek, both members of the web team, dedicated the most time, clocking in voluntarily at around 9 a.m. most mornings this summer and working until about 5 p.m. — and that was before everyone got together in late summer at the Information Resource Center on campus for an intense two-week collaborative coding marathon.
“The coding got pretty frustrating,” Hyon said. “There were a lot of errors, things that didn’t work and we expected to get a lot more features in than we did. But we had to figure out what wasn’t working and we had to rebuild it.”
Eventually, though, with the help of recent graduate Lucas Cardell, who served as the project advisor, and some cheerleading (and pizza) from LCUSD’s Chief Technology Officer Jamie Lewsadder, the group broke through.
“I really like it,” said Lysek, one of two seniors on the team. “There’s more work to do, but it feels really good that I made something that’s actually working.”
“What I’m most impressed with is the students wanted to work on a project that solved a local problem for fellow students,” Lewsadder said. “They love technology and formed an all-star team of peers with diverse talents and each
contributed in powerful ways from design to technical expertise.
“And now as they work out bugs, they are planning future feature additions and trying to figure out how the app will live beyond them. The fact that they have a mindset to address sustainability is amazing.”
There’s some concern among its creators that their peers might not automatically rush to download an app loaded with announcements they might have otherwise ignored, but everyone involved believes the project will prove valuable — especially if they’re able to successfully gamify it all.
“Our long-term goal is that we want the app to increase engagement in school activities,” said Hyon, describing a system in which students would check in, via QR code, at different school events to earn points for attending.
“That will keep a log of everything you go to, so you’ll get points for going to school spirit events and club meetings. It’ll be like a game. And then you’d get prizes for the number of points you collect — like, [Principal Ian] McFeat said maybe a front-row parking spot.”
That’s the type of announcement that makes their peers perk up.
This message, Hyon said, is simple: “We encourage everyone in the school to download the app.”