The fourth annual HWS Hackathon featured eight teams of students who developed innovative ideas for addressing some of the challenges facing educators in the U.S. The winning team, “The Innovators,” proposed a mural project reflecting the idea of art as a universal language that can cultivate student growth and bring about inclusiveness and community.
Trina Newton, superintendent of Geneva City School District (GCSD) and one of the Hackathon judges, hopes to incorporate several of the entries—including the winning team’s effort—into the district’s curriculum. “As I take a look at the whole event,” she says, “the variety of the teams’ answers and their out-of-the-box thinking within a 24-hour time period was impressive. They were thoughtful, creative and quite a few of them were doable.”
Held on the last weekend in October, the Hackathon is “24 hours of social innovation.” Each year, a different topic is chosen for students to explore with the help of outside experts. “We carefully pick a complex social issue and then gather a keynote plus roundtable experts to help de-construct the issue for students,” says Amy Forbes, director of the Centennial Center, and event sponsor.
Participants this year heard a keynote address from Hobart Dean and Associate Professor of Education Khuram Hussain. Other speakers included Graham Hughes, community operations associate at the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, who spoke on poverty in Rochester area schools and Tracey Marchionda, director of innovation and multi-language learners for GCSD, who addressed educating multi-language learners in an English-dominant school system.
Following intensive planning sessions, each team presented a proposal for a creative solution to one of the challenges posed by the panel of expert judges. Judges for the 2018 Hackathon included Newton, Kirra Henick-Kling Guard ’08, MAT ’09, a school psychologist with the Victor Central School District and Louis H. Guard ’07, vice president and general counsel at HWS.
“The Innovators” team consisted of Katherine Vangaever ’21, Jack Polentes ’21 and Juniper Asaro-Niederlitz ’22. Runners up included team “Slick” of Alexander Lorie ’21, Rylee Wernoch ’21 and Meghan Quint ’21, who focused on encouraging parental involvement through an organization called ASAP (Academic Support for Anonymous Parents) and “The Climateeers,” of Tanner Bissonette ’22 and Katie Birzon ’22, who suggested building community through school gardens. This year, one of the participating teams included four students from the University of Rochester.
“The purpose of the Hackathon is to increase creative problem-solving and idea generation when it comes to our most challenging social issues,” says Forbes. “By bringing in experts to examine the issue with students, creating some friendly competition and carving out a challenging assignment, the Hackathon has established itself as an event that attracts students who want to intellectually engage with issues that matter while also going outside of their comfort zones.”