Alertra, a wearable fire notification system for people with hearing impairments, earned a team of Mount Olive High School students an opportunity to share their invention with the world.
The product was developed as part of the school’s inaugural participation in Project Invent, a nationwide program that inspires innovation and entrepreneurship. After presenting its product at a virtual regional competition – think “Shark Tank” without the bite – the team was one of just seven in the country to be chosen to attend Future Fest, Project Invent’s celebration of student inventors and innovation education. The conference was held in the tech center of the U.S. – San Jose, California, the largest city in Silicon Valley.
Alertra was envisioned as a complete turnkey alarm system. In the event of a fire, custom smoke detectors transmit signals to a wrist-worn alarm equipped with flashing lights and vibration motors. The wearable devices are the size of an Apple Watch.
“It reduces risk for everyone,” said student Dhruv Raghuraman. “Alertra gets people out of the buildings, and that makes it safer for firefighters because they don’t have to go into a fire to rescue anyone inside.”
To begin the development process, the team was partnered with the Leary Firefighters Foundation and tasked with using their skills to devise a product to meet a social need. After discussions with foundation officials and fire departments in Erie, Pennsylvania and Millburn, New Jersey, the young inventors came up with the Alertra concept.
While this was the first year of Project Invent at MOHS, the students had some experience working together on similar projects. Four of the five also participate in an afterschool club that develops underwater remotely operated vehicles. Though Alertra was a collaborative effort, students automatically fell into their natural leadership roles. Matthew Rambo was in charge of design, Pratyus Mohapatra and Dhruv handled programming, and Kaitlyn Bodmer and Gabriela Forero created all marketing materials.
Working afterschool and during lunch periods, the five students developed Alertra over eight months. Hundreds of hours of planning, trial and error, and revisions – both in school and out – brought their vision to life. Feedback was provided throughout the process by the firefighters and twice from tech industry leaders, including the IBM team that judged the regional competition.
After learning of their selection for the national event in San Jose, the students had two months to put the finishing touches on their products and presentation materials. Not only would their peers from other parts of the country see them, but also national tech leaders and Project Invent officials. “Going in we had a loose prototype, so after we heard [about San Jose] we had to kick it into gear and start refining everything,” said Matthew.
The system had to look professional, like something you’d find on the shelf at Best Buy or Home Depot. Alertra-branded smoke detector models were created using the school’s 3D printers, and were then packaged and shrinkwrapped. The exterior of the wearable device was reworked into a sleek, compact design that was also 3D printed. The device used the interchangeable bands from the Apple Watch, making replacement a breeze.
At Future Fest, held in a science and technology center that offers interactive exhibits and STEAM education resources, the Alertra team staffed a table with their design models and discussed the system with visitors. The students also participated in hands-on engineering activities with members of the six other Project Invent teams.
The rewards of Project Invent, the students said, transcended far beyond tech knowledge entrepreneurship experience.
“By the end of the trip, we were very tight,” said Kaitlyn, who has invention infused intos her DNA. Her father, David, teaches digital design and engineering at MOHS and serves as both the Project Invent and marine robotics club advisers. “Developing a project that you believe in, along with people you come to love and care about, was an awesome experience.”
Project Invent will be offered again in 2022-2023.
Kaitlyn Bodmer, Pratyus Mohapatra, Matthew Rambo, and Dhruv Raghuraman show off their product prototypes
Mount Olive High School has been named a 2022 Model School by the International Center for Leadership in Education, an organization that supports effective instructional practices that lead to accelerated learning for all students.
One of just 16 U.S. schools to be selected for the honor, MOHS was chosen as a model school based on the success of initiatives implemented over the past several years. These include a data-driven remediation system which tailors instruction to meet each student’s unique needs, blended learning programs, and innovative new courses in computer science, robotics, business, anatomy, social studies, and special education.
“This honor is a recognition of not only the efforts over the past several years, but the decades-long commitment of the board of education and entire community to innovation and student-centered learning,” said Superintendent Robert Zywicki, Ed.D. “MOHS is the crown jewel of our district, with so many opportunities for students to explore whatever interests them. I am so proud of our teachers, administrators, and support staff for their dedication to our kids.”
In recent years, MOHS has also made a concerted effort to encourage all students to enroll in higher-level coursework. More AP classes were added, bringing the total to nearly 30, and the school adopted an AP financial incentive program. For students who pay the College Board fee for one AP exam, the school pays the registration fees for all additional exams. The incentive program helped overcome any cost barriers that were dissuading students from pursuing AP courses. For three consecutive years, 2017-2019, Mount Olive was named to the AP Honor Roll by the College Board – a distinction that recognizes the district’s efforts in increasing the number of students from underrepresented demographics who take AP courses.
Additional partnerships were formed with several universities, too. This allowed students to receive college credit by taking college courses at MOHS, taught by MOHS teachers.
A team from the school district will present details of the high school’s unique programming at the 30thannual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida from June 26–29.
A Mount Olive High School alumna will soon take the number 2 spot in the district she once called home. At its regular monthly meeting on April 25, the Mount Olive Board of Education appointed Sumit Bangia, Ed.D, as assistant superintendent, effective July 1. Bangia replaces Lisa Schleer who left the district for the private sector.
“I’m excited to welcome her back to Mount Olive,” said Superintendent Robert Zywicki, Ed.D. “Sumit is an accomplished and well-regarded educational leader. During the interview process, I was completely blown away by her expertise and technical knowledge. She’s the perfect addition to our team.”
Bangia brings more than 20 years of educational experience to Mount Olive. Currently, she serves as assistant superintendent in Mountain Lakes. In addition to her school and district supervisory roles there, she developed a dual enrollment program for the district, led the state reporting processes, and organized the district’s strategic planning initiative. She is also an adjunct professor at Seton Hall where she specializes in teaching graduate-level courses focused on curriculum development and instructional planning.
“I’m thrilled to be returning to Mount Olive,” she said. “I’m especially excited to work alongside the great educators there and reconnect with the larger school community, including both parents and students.”
Bangia began her career teaching social studies at Randolph High School, before moving on to serve as supervisor of humanities in Verona, then director of secondary education in Caldwell-West Caldwell.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (concentration in social studies) from Pennsylvania State University, a master’s in administration and supervision from Montclair State University, and her doctorate in educational leadership from the College of Saint Elizabeth.
More than two dozen educators applied for the position in March. Bangia was selected after an extensive four-round interview process which involved parents, teachers, counseling staff, and school and central office administrators.