By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Both Singer and Suri have taught themselves several coding languages including HTML5, JQuery, Objective-C, PHP, and more. As they developed their skills, the students began looking for a way to create a series of educational apps as well as get more students involved in programming.
Their solution, Apps for Aptitude, is an educational nonprofit organization that can award up to 300 community service hours to students and developers for creating and uploading their own educational apps. Upon receiving a student’s submission, the nonprofit organization will grade the app on its educational benefits, entertainment value, and user interface design; and reward a number of service hours based on the final score. Apps for Aptitude will accept app submissions for iOS, Android, and Windows devices; and a full description of the coding formats they accept is available on their website.
Giving Back to the Community
Singer and Suri hope that offering a reward of community service hours will encourage young students to sharpen their programming skills and create quality applications. The hours can be used for fellowship applications, college admissions, and scholarships. Some high schools even require a student to gain community service hours to graduate.
“I personally want to encourage middle schoolers and high schoolers and just students in general to start developing applications from an early age,” Suri said. “It’s really nice to help a high schooler or middle schooler who is just starting out.”
Appsforaptitude.org links to several free resources and tutorials to help students along the way. In the future, the nonprofit organization plans to work with San Antonio schools and Geekdom’s SparkEd program to help students learn to code.
In addition to grading apps, Apps for Aptitude will also produce two of their own educational apps with the help of iOS developer, Canzhi Ye. Ye is going into his senior year at Ronald Reagan High School and is the co-founder of San Antonio startup Rectangle. Ye’s apps will have users answer educational questions in a trivia format and will provide another opportunity for students to submit content in exchange for service hours.
“What we plan on doing is making an app that will allow others to feed in content – kind of a trivia type app where there is questions and answers,” Ye said.
But encouraging students to code is only part of the Apps for Aptitude mission. It plans to donate the majority of its revenue to organizations that promote child literacy in San Antonio. According to the SA2020 indicator report, released on June 4, 27 percent of San Antonio’s third grade students scored lower than satisfactory on the STAAR reading assessment in the 2011-2012 school year. This is up from the 12 percent that failed to pass the less challenging TAKS test in the 2010 – 2011 school year. Founder Singer chose to help promote child illiteracy because he wants all students to be literate enough to benefit from educational apps.
“We wanted to create kind of an educational curriculum of applications, but we realized you can’t teach people to read without having someone teach them,” Singer said. “We thought maybe we could help our individual community, and the global community, by donating our profits to fighting illiteracy.”
To generate funding for child literacy organizations, Apps for Aptitude will submit the best apps they receive from students to the Apple App Store or to Google Play. Apps for Aptitude will offer both paid and free versions of educational apps – using iAd and Playhaven to attach advertising to the free versions.
Of course, even a nonprofit organization needs some financial help to get the ball rolling. To that end, Apps for Aptitude has secured a pledge of $1,000 from the 80/20 Foundation – Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston’s personal philanthropy foundation focused on funding urbanization, entrepreneurship, and STEM education in San Antonio. The funding pledge will come into effect once the nonprofit organization achieves 501(c)(3) status, and will be beneficial in the IRS nonprofit application process.
A Catalyst to Inspire Young People
The 80/20 Foundation Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez sees Apps for Aptitude as a catalyst that will inspire even more young people to start careers in programming.
“When you are a young person, you are much more apt to listen and take the advice of someone who looks like you than some old person,” Gomez said. “What I really love about their model is they are in high school trying to teach something that other high schoolers or even middle school people would respond better to because they are their own age.”
In addition to helping with funding, 80/20 will play a mentoring role with Apps for Aptitude by offering personal guidance. They will also introduce the founders to additional organizations, such as the San Antonio Area Foundation, which can help them through the IRS application process.
To help Apps for Aptitude promote child literacy, 80/20 Foundation Deputy Director Scott Meltzer will create a list of potential organizations, such as SA Reads and San Antonio Youth Literacy, for the nonprofit organization to consider funding.
While it has a basic framework in place, Apps for Aptitude is still looking to build its team. It has recruited two more students from the International School of the Americas: Senior Cosmo Albrecht, who will be the organization’s head of marketing, and sophomore Brendan Rodriguez who will serve as the creative director. The team is still looking for students familiar with Java and C+ to help grade incoming student submissions.
For further guidance, Apps for Aptitude also has a board of directors which serves in a mentoring and advising role. The board currently includes Trinity University Associate Professor of Education Angela Breidenstein, International School of the Americas Principal Emily Bieser, and Chairman Emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority Lady Barbara Judge. It is currently looking for additional board members and mentors with a technology background.