After years of immersing themselves in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education, four Jericho High School juniors put their skills to test when their community lacked critical information in the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many students throughout Long Island have found ways to give back to their communities amid the COVID-19 crisis, such as by creating banners for graduating seniors and making masks to raise money for various causes.
But Danny Li, 17, wondered how he and his Jericho high classmates could collaborate to give back while using their coding, application development and research skills.
“When we found an abundance of time on our hands, we wanted to see what we could do to positively impact the community during these extreme circumstances,” said Li, who's on the school's math and debate teams.
Through online surveys they shared on social media platforms, Li and his classmates learned that many had no idea where to go for testing.
“It was kind of shocking to see that so many people said they didn’t know where they could find a testing site when COVID-19 was really starting to ramp up in New York,” Li said. “It was worrying to us that people couldn’t find this information or didn’t think it was easily accessible, and we wanted to do something about that right away.”
In a matter of two weeks that included a lot of late nights, the students targeted a problem, brainstormed a solution and launched their project.
They created COVIDCentral.org. The website features a database of all COVID-19 testing locations available in New York, in addition to food distribution centers and blood plasma donation sites, with an interactive map to help users easily identify locations near their ZIP code.
If vaccination locations start opening, the group said, they plan to add them to the interactive map on the website.
The project managed to impress the Microsoft hackathon team, a group of professionals in the process of creating a similar website of a national centralized database when they came upon the students’ website.
Mervin Johnsingh, a senior developer at Microsoft, said he reached out to Li and asked him if he would share the testing center data his team had collected for New York.
“They should definitely be celebrated for the amount of effort they have put in toward their site,” Johnsingh said, adding that the work was “incredible.”
Team member Justin Shen, 16, said he credits the work they did to principles he and his friends learned in their research class at Jericho High School, where they met.
“We learned that STEM is extremely important to society and not just extremely important for tests and grades,” Shen said. “We were taught to try to identify problems in society and try to solve it with our abilities in STEM.”
Outside of his research class, Shen plays varsity tennis and participates in the environmental club.
Shen helped Li with outreach, research and sharing the online surveys on social media, he said.
Meanwhile, team member Daniel You, 17, played another vital role in the project by developing the code for the website.
“The possibilities of what you can make are endless with coding as long as you have the knowledge, a computer, a keyboard and internet,” said You, who’s also president of the high school’s coding club. “As someone who’s creative, that’s really appealing to me.”
When he’s not coding for fun, You said he likes to go behind the lens and explore photography.
Davesh Valagolam, 16, helped the team with his skill of creating algorithms to solve problems. Valagolam said he recently created an algorithm for a phone and watch application that helps classify the type of involuntary hand movements of elderly patients.
“This is pretty much the future,” Valagolam said of the skills he and his classmates exercise. “We’re doing something that can be used in society, which is really for motivating us.”