By Gabriel Rom
Five years ago, Grover Cleveland High School’s Academy of Information Technology received a grant from computer technology company Lenovo to start an app development workshop under the instruction of GCHS teacher Andrew Woodbridge.
At Forest Park’s Oak Ridge, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina gathered with Woodbridge and a group of talented students Jan. 7 to showcase six mobile apps.
Crowley, who worked at Forest Park when she was younger, proposed that this year they develop an app focused on the park.
“Forest Park is over 500 acres with many different attractions, from the Ridgewood Reservoir to the bandshell to the carousel,” Crowley said. “Whether you have lived in the area for 50 years or just a few months, it’s a tough park to navigate. These different apps will let residents and visitors alike take advantage of all our community has to offer.”
Daranne Ponce, a Grover Cleveland student who worked on the Revisor Racing app, said she was inspired by Forest Park’s “beautiful, scenic views.”
Along with her two other teammates, Isra Bisharat and Gustavo Espinoza, Ponce developed an app that would time users as they raced past a series of checkpoints around the reservoir.
Espinoza, who worked on coding the app, said he only had a single year of computer engineering experience before embarking on the project.
“We try to keep it simple,” he said.
For many of students this was their first foray into mobile application development.
“We immediately got thrown into this, so we’re happy,” said Stephanie Veslasquez who was part of the Rocky’s Forest Park Adventure app development team. That app was developed from pictures the group took on a tour of the park.
While Woodbridge says he offered help to his students when they hit roadblocks, he also encouraged them to tackle problems on their own and to adapt on the fly, developing what he sees as crucial skills for the job force.
“This is all about how what they’re doing is transferable to their careers,” Woodbridge said.
“These are skills that can transfer over to any industry–both technology skills and soft skills, like public speaking and interpersonal skills,” he added.
Crowley solicited help from various community partners including the Forest Park Trust, Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society, the Ridgewood Reservoir, the Highland Park Alliance, the Queens Historical Society, the Department of Parks and Recreation and H2O.
“It is wonderful to see a program like this that engages students in STEM learning while teaching them about social studies and civic engagement,” Fariña said.
As the showcase came to a close, Denise Vittor, principal of Grover Cleveland, took a small group of students aside and asked them what they could improve on. The kids shifted uneasily.
“Be confident and be sure of yourself,” Vittor said. “There are a lot of people who have never done what you’re doing.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@