MARION — Limited funds for technology training didn’t stop a group of Marion Jr. High School students from winning a best-in-state contest for an original device application proposal.

Next week, they’ll find out if they are best in the Midwest. If so, they’ll win $5,000 for their school and a chance to compete nationally for a $15,000 prize.

After brainstorming, arguments, procrastination and cartwheels down their school’s hallways, the team of 7th-grade students had their idea for the second ever Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

Their proposal for an app to help people find local volunteer opportunities was selected among entries from Illinois schools grades six through eight.

More than 770 app concepts were submitted nationwide, 40 percent coming from underserved schools, according to a Verizon news release.

“There was a lot of arguing and a lot of thinking and a lot of stress, and then we came up with an idea called HelperHub,” teammate Claire Treece said.

To participate, the team of seven students had to write an essay and produce a video on YouTube. In addition to Treece, other team members include: Jordan Bloodworth, Alex Wagner, Jackson Bradley, Emily Rubright, Connor McCormick and Ryan Palmer.

Science teacher Regenna Biermann says her role was limited to organizing the team and submitting paperwork.

“The app would be good to show places that need the volunteers instead of people going to places that already have enough,” Rubright said, adding the app would also send alerts from organizations with immediate needs.

The competition was created by the Verizon Foundation in partnership with the Technology Student Association to encourage students to use technology to help solve local social issues.

High school students also competed but in a separate division. Bartlett High School in DuPage County won in that group.

In addition to the prize money, faculty advisors of the 24 Best in Region winners and up to two of their colleagues will be enrolled in an online course for app development taught by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

On Feb. 19, eight national winners will be chosen, each winning a grant to further develop or support education program in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects.

Each team member will also win a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, which the students will be invited to use in June for a presentation of their apps at the 2014 National TSA Conference in Washington, D.C.

Even if the Marion students do not advance any further, their team will have access to a self-guided app development course through MIT.

Biermann acknowledged the need for more technology education, but limited funds make it difficult.

The students are hoping they can help with that. Each said they have long held interest in computers, from programming to taking apart a laptop and rebuilding it.

“I really would love to be able to win this and get the money for our school,” Bloodworth said.


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