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Kristen Kallock, Emily Mawhinney, Angelina Maffei, Julia Quinn and Charlotte Grayson, seniors at Middle Township High School, developed an app to help people communicate better.  

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COURT HOUSE - “If you think you have a good idea that will help society, then keep at it, make it happen,” is the advice Middle Township High School senior Angelina Maffei has to offer, as part of a five-student team that placed third in a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) competition with an app inspired by her twin brother. 

Her team, featuring seniors Charlotte Grayson, Kristen Kallok, and Emily Mawhinney, all of Court House, and Julia Quinn, of Dennis Township, was 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 connection to issues enabling communication. 

Maffei, who has been working on the app since eighth grade, brought her “passion for science” to the competition, to enable her brother, Nicholas, who has Down syndrome and uses sign language, to better communicate.  

Her fellow students joined her as freshmen, learning how to program,build and market the app using social media and other methods.

The app - “What’s the Sign?” - translates sign language unlike other translators on the market. Their prototype not only translates, but also animates words, not just letters, in sign language by utilizing GIFs. 

It was challenging to find the time to develop the content for the app, according to Maffei, but she and the team kept at it. 

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

The team tested their prototype with their local deaf community, including Maffei’s brother, who they say responded well.  

“It can be used to supplement sign language,” she noted. 

They also interviewed numerous professionals in the technology field, such as specialists at Intel and special education teachers at their school. Maffei hopes to become a special education teacher. 

“I am constantly amazed by our students,” stated Superintendent Dr. David Salvo, in a press release from the event sponsors. “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.”   

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Kristen Kallock, Emily Mawhinney, Angelina Maffei, Julia Quinn and Charlotte Grayson, seniors at Middle Township High School, recently received recognition for an app they designed to help enable communication, inspired by Maffei’s twin brother.  

According to the release, competition judges found the app “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 STEAM in response to current world issues. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association's website, the challenge lets students contribute to making the nation 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 Oct. 4-22, which included 23 high school teams. Thirteen teams in the three divisions placed. 

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

Middle Township received $1,000 to use toward club projects, according to Maffei. 

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com

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