Anjika Jain displays her certificate of award after winning the Congressional App Challenge.

Anjika Jain displays her certificate of award after winning the Congressional App Challenge.

Photo provided by the Avondale School District


Local student’s app for people with autism wins congressional challenge

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 29, 2019

AUBURN HILLS/ROCHESTER HILLS — Anjika Jain, a sophomore at Avondale High School, won the 2018 Congressional App Challenge for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.

The 15-year-old, from Auburn Hills, created “Bridge the Gap,” an app that helps youths with autism and cognitive impairments improve social skills and manage their daily routines.

Jain has volunteered for four years in the Avondale School District’s Bridge Buddies — for middle schoolers —  and Links — for high schoolers — programs, which district officials said match students receiving special education with those in general education to mentor and model appropriate social behaviors, and to assist with class work.

In working with special education students over the years, Jain said, she noticed that her “buddy” or “link” would often need a cue or a reminder from another person to complete a task.

So when she learned about the Congressional App Challenge from her high school technology teacher, Martin Ballard, she decided to create a mobile app that allows for self-prompting to help build independence.

Ballard said Avondale Schools is committed to providing opportunities for students to flourish by providing real-world scenarios and work site learning opportunities that allow them to explore areas and careers while they are in high school.

“Anjika has embraced these opportunities, like the Congressional App Challenge, where she developed an app that can directly impact people in the real-world setting and positively influence them to make good choices. She has a passion and compassion for seeing positive growth both in herself and others around her. She is truly a student of vision and drive, and she will definitely be a person that changes our world for the good,” Ballard said in an email.

Jain, who had never competed in an app challenge before this, said she really wanted to create an app that would help the community.

“Over the years, I’ve really gotten to interact with special education students, so when I heard about this challenge, the first thing that came to mind was making an app to help them with their daily lives,” she said.

The app, which Jain created in a couple of weeks, focuses on four main areas: good table manners, conversations, helping hands and routines.

The good table manners section lists a number of tasks, including washing your hands, and upon completing the tasks, the user can receive a star as an incentive.

The conversations section is designed to help students in special education with their communication skills by answering a number of basic questions like “How are you?” with a voice application programming interface — a tool that allows the user to press on the screen and verbally answer.

The helping hands section was designed to help students when they are in an uncomfortable situation, like figuring out who to ask for help if they need to use the restroom.

The final section is routines, which has a list of tasks to complete for morning and night rituals.

“I put a lot of time and effort into this app, so I was beyond happy — I was ecstatic — to hear that I had won,” Jain said.

The Congressional App Challenge is a competition organized by members of Congress across the country for middle and high school students to create their own software applications and gain experience with computer coding.

“Avondale has some really good computer programming courses, so I am really looking forward to continuing my education and possibly a career in computer programming,” Jain said.

As the winning submission, Jain’s app will be featured at the U.S. Capitol and on the website of the U.S. House of Representatives. She will also receive $250 in Amazon web service credits to support her next technology project, and she has been invited to a special coding-related event in Washington, D.C., in April.

Jain hopes to launch her app first within her district’s elementary schools to get some feedback and improve the app as necessary.

For more information on the app challenge, visit www.congressionalappchallenge.us.