January 30, 2018

Contact: Beth Stefanik, Director of Communications
434.296.5106 (o) | 434.282.4371 (c) | bstefanik@stab.org


Third Annual SPARK! Teen Hackathon
Breaks Participation Record

Charlottesville, Va., Jan. 30, 2018 - More than 75 students from 20 Central Virginia schools participated in this year's third annual SPARK! Hackathon, presented by St. Anne's-Belfield School in partnership with University of Virginia's i.Lab on Jan. 27 and 28. In addition to being the largest gathering of regional teen hackers yet, it was also the most gender equitable with female participants making up 48% of the total.


Though the term "hacking" came into popular usage with a negative connotation, it has since been reclaimed by the computer science community to simply mean working hard at something or taking apart an existing item to see what else it could be used to do.


"This has definitely been the best year yet," said event co-organizer and St. Anne's-Belfield Upper School computer science program coordinator Zach Minster. "We are thrilled this event has been growing, and we plan to continue to reach out to underrepresented populations in future years."


Like in the past, participants spent Saturday at a "learnathon" with the opportunity to enjoy two workshops each offered by a variety of community mentors. Options included Mozilla's "Open Food Truck Challenge" designed to help students understand how openness and transparency can improve projects, Machine Learning and Neural Networks, Introduction to Design Thinking, The Basics of Making a Game, Computer Forensics 101, and more.


"I'm really inspired by the things that computer science can do," said Mariah Payne, an amateur computer scientist and St. Anne's-Belfield School junior who has enjoyed previous hackathons. "It's a hobby that can contribute and help change your community."


Payne spent Sunday working on a creating a game to help younger girls gain an interest in computer science, one of four prompts brought to the students from event sponsors. Other questions included how to motivate people to become more environmentally conscious, what core content, skills, and mindsets should define education today, and how to create designs and offer options to help people think through the ethical implications of actions such as recycling. Student groups created apps, artificial intelligence programs, and even prototype recycling bins in answer to these challenges.


"This year I was so inspired by the way the students took on the problems presented to them with enthusiasm, creativity and fearlessness. It gives me hope to see students empowered to tackle important issues like cyberbullying, environmental sustainability, and the future of education," said Kim Wilkens, event co-organizer and St. Anne's-Belfield Learning Village computer science program coordinator.


With the inclusion of mentors from 18 different community organizations including students from St. Anne's-Belfield School, Albemarle High School, and Blue Ridge Virtual Governor's School, a variety of networks opened to all participants, many of whom made fast friendships during the weekend.


"It's an entire day of working . . . with people who are your teammates but also become good friends," said Orange County High School sophomore Jafet Vazquez.


One of the teams from the SPARK! Hackathon will be invited to pitch at the TomTom Youth Summit and all the teams will be encouraged to apply to participate in the student project exhibitions.


Sponsor organizations of the event included QIM, U.Va. i.Lab, CFA Institute, WillowTree, Coshx, Explore Learning, Mission Secure, Moonlighting, Perrone Robotics, Sun Tribe Solar, Ting, and U.Va. Research Park.



St. Anne's-Belfield School is a co-educational preschool through grade 12 day school of more than 940 students and 150 faculty and staff, with a boarding program in grades nine through twelve. Nineteen countries are represented in the student body, with 41 percent of students receiving financial aid. More information may be found at www.stab.org

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