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GPS Seventh-Grader Wins Congressional App Challenge

Environmental game earns Emerson Couch '24 top honors.
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (TN-03) surprises students at Girls Preparatory School on Monday, December 3, to announce the winner of the first-ever Congressional App Challenge. More than 100 middle and high school students from Tennessee’s Third District registered for the challenge and 39 apps were received from teams and individuals. "This is truly outstanding," says Congressman Fleischmann, before announcing the winner. "There were a lot of entries."

Seventh-grader Emerson Couch won the competition with the game app, Litter Awareness, she designed in her Design & Discovery class, taught by Karen Richards, GPS computer science teacher. Couch will receive $250 in credit and one travel voucher to attend the 2019 #HouseofCode reception in Washington, D.C. Winners' apps are eligible to be displayed in the Capitol for 12 months starting in April and on the House.gov website.

“We are so proud of Emerson—for her creativity and her passion for programming and the environment,” says Dr. Autumn A. Graves, GPS Head of School. “Beginning in Middle School, our students are given many opportunities to shine across the STEM fields, and Emerson approached the app challenge with much enthusiasm and support from her teacher.”

Last year Emerson led the charge to have plastic straws banned from our school dining room and, with a classmate, did a presentation before the entire student body, urging students to sign a petition to ban straws on campus. As of 2017, GPS no longer uses plastic straws in its dining room.
 
So when the app challenge was presented to her, Emerson naturally chose to again focus on the abundance of plastic waste in the environment. Her app features a polar bear that has to traverse a maze to reach her cub but keeps getting caught in litter. Whenever the player’s bear dies from getting caught in plastic, a message pops up with facts about the negative effects of plastic on the environment. Players win by finally reaching the cub. At the end of the game, a bonus game pops up that allows the player to see how much litter they can pick up within 45 seconds.
 
"I'd love to one day see my game as an app that people can download on their phones," Couch says.
 
Karen Richards’ seventh-grade classes worked on the challenge during class time in September. “Students in Mr. Fleischmann's district in grades six through 12 were invited to write a computer program to do anything they wanted—a game, an educational tool, something musical,” Richards says. “They had several options of programming languages from which to choose.” Scratch from MIT was on the list and is the primary programming language GPS uses for Middle School, so that is the platform Couch used.

“Emerson 100 percent deserves this win,” says Richards. “She had a vision of what she wanted to do from the very start. She started with a simple maze and gradually grew its difficulty over time. Emerson cares deeply for the environment. She worked diligently during class time, came to help classes, and even came to my room during a couple of her study halls to fix bugs along the way.”

Couch is equally grateful for Richards’ guidance. “Anytime I had a question, she was very encouraging,” she says.

Richards adds that Couch approached this challenge with enthusiasm. “She worked on it diligently, using her logical thinking and problem-solving skills along the way,” she says. “And she chose a theme she is passionate about. I love that she made her game challenging, entertaining, and educational. What a brilliant way to highlight that computer science is a creative tool that can improve the world we live in.”

"It was incredible to see the amount of support for Emerson from her classmates and faculty today," Congressman Fleischmann says. More information about the Congressional App Challenge can be found here.
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