McKinley High students connect with business owners to solve real world problems

    Groups of McKinley High School students acted as a critical eye for several local small businesses and created mobile apps that address issues impacting the companies.

    The high school is one of eight in the United States partaking in  Arizona State University Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s—which is working with the Verizon Foundation— Innovation through Design Thinking program. The program aims to instill entrepreneurial thinking in classrooms.

    Students are trained in app development, learn about marketing and business strategies and apply those skills to real-world problems.

    At McKinley, science teacher Lynette Jackson says the high school received a $20,000 grant for participating in the program and used MIT App Inventor to develop the mobile apps, which were presented at showcase recently held at the school.

    Jackson says five teams of students began working on the apps in late fall 2015.

    Small businesses paired with the student groups include: Quad’s Sweet Treat, Big Will’s Lawn Care, Armoured Floor Cleaning Specialist, Whole 9 Designs and the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, which is opening in BREC’s City-Brooks Community Park on Dalrymple Drive.

    When 16-year-old Ilise Leary was assigned the app project, she immediately thought it was the perfect opportunity to help her sister Andrea Leary Fernandez, owner of Quad’s Sweet Treats, an in-home baking business.

    Leary, a sophomore, says her older sister juggles the demands of being a mother to four children and of running the baking business. The teen says whenever her sister gets an order she tends to call clients or meet with them in person to work out pricing and the details of the order.

    “It usually ends up being very lengthy for her to get the order in,” Leary says.

    So the teen and a group of other McKinley High School students created an Android app that allows customers to place their order, specify the size of the order, select the number of tiers for cakes and pick decorations. Once that’s complete, customers are taken to a checkout page where they can review their order and select whether they want the order to be picked up or delivered. Fernandez would receive an email after the customer verifies and places the order.

    “I wanted her to actually reduce the amount of work that she has do for getting the orders in—she has a family. She has four kids and a husband,” Leary says. The app won first place at the showcase.

    Fernandez says she plans to use the app for her business and is willing to pay Google Play to publish it. “It would make my life so much easier when it comes to getting my orders organized,” she says.

    Jackson says she originally hoped the students would walk away from the project with marketable skills, but they learned much more. The students became independent, self-motivated and demonstrated that they could complete the task in the time allowed, Jackson says.

    Craig Elliot, 17, worked with Leary to create the app for Quad’s Sweet Treats. He says the experience taught him about the importance of advertising for businesses.

    LeMarc Bell, 17, worked with a team of students who created an app for the Knock Knock Children’s Museum. Bell says the app is designed to help patrons navigate the museum and keep them up-to-date on activities taking place in other parts of the museum as they explore another part of the facility.

    “We took the problems and we found ways in which we could make them better,” Bell says. He says developing the app was a journey. The app will be available when the museum opens.

    —Alexandria Burris

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