Kalispell teams dominate Montana App Challenge

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Kalispell teams placed first through fourth at the Montana App Challenge in Helena. Front row, from left, Makayla Davenport, Isabelle Ashley, Kyra Hutchison, Amanda Hutchison, Lillian Lewis, (back row) Hailey Hendrickson, Lillian Schroeder, Alexandra Houseworth, Taylor Pooton, Kelsea Bemis, Elise Suda. Not pictured: Miki Flint and Grace Steindorf, who participated virtually in the competition. (Photo courtesy of Marianne Smith)

All-girl teams from Kalispell swept the top four spots at the second Montana App Challenge held at the Montana State Capitol rotunda on May 19.

The “Kalispell Girls Who Code” teams dominated the competition with apps that help users donate to food banks, buy from and donate to thrift stores, assess suicide risk and locate water bottle refilling stations.

“It was incredible,” said coach Marianne Smith.

“The girls were extremely prepared,” she said, noting the teams had participated in the Kalispell Mini Maker Faire and used the feeback to improve their apps and “knocked it out of the park” at the Montana App Challenge.

Fifteen teams, including some from Whitefish, competed in the challenge organized by Montana Code Girls, a Missoula-based program of Big Sky Code Academy. This year’s competition was opened up to both boys and girls.

Teams were tasked with solving community problems by developing an app and doing marketing research, then creating a business plan, pitch and demonstration videos. Youth presented this information to judges in science-fair style. Judges also looked at the technical aspects of the apps.

First place went to “Grow Your Donations,” an app developed by Alexandra Houseworth, Taylor Pooton and Lillian Schroeder. This app aims to help people donate to food banks with efficiency. People can learn what items are needed and where to donate. Grow Your Donations also includes an interactive game that encourages people to grow plants and donate the produce. The first-place team received Android tablets.

The “Clothes for Kids” app developed by Isabelle Ashley, Makayla Davenport, Amanda Hutchison and Kyra Hutchison earned second place. Through the app, parents can request specific clothing items their children need, at a discount, from a local thrift store. Requests are sent to the store. If the items are available, parents receive an email to pick them up. Users may also access donation information through the app.

Third place went to the app “Stop Suicide,” developed by Kelsea Bemis, Lillian Lewis and Elise Suda. This app screens users for suicide risk through an assessment quiz, linking them to information based on the results for getting or giving help. The app also helps users understand their emotions. Statistics on suicide are also accessible.

Second- and third-place winners received Bluetooth speakers.

Miki Flint, Hailey Hendrickson and Grace Steindorf earned fourth place for “Where’s the Water,” which provides the locations of water bottle refilling stations around the valley with details such as cost, if applicable. Users may also add locations. The app also includes facts about pollution caused by plastic water bottles.

Liz Bernau, Kate Sako, Beth Schecher and Smith coached the teams.

Kalispell Girls Who Code is a free after-school program open to fourth- through eighth-graders. Through the program, girls learn computer coding, business skills and problem solving.

Previously, the program was a chapter of Montana Code Girls, but is now affiliated with the national nonprofit, Girls Who Code.

Smith said the move was to maintain a focus on providing educational coding programming solely for girls in efforts to close the gender gap, as other organizations have expanded to include co-ed offerings.

“There really isn’t anything here for this age group of girls,” Smith said.

The Kalispell group currently meets at Russell Elementary and is looking for new volunteer coaches in order to grow membership. Volunteers need to have a basic understanding of coding.

Kalispell Girls Who Code is currently raising $3,000 for competition travel expenses, technology and other purchases to benefit the group.

Donations may be made online at https://www.givegab.com/campaigns/KalispellGirlsWhoCode. Girls interested in joining the program, or people interested in volunteering may contact Smith at m.smith@troutmoon.com.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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