Kids to the Rescue: Step Up Competitors Seek to Solve Everyday Problems

From existential threats such as climate change to seemingly endemic poor posture, Loudoun’s youth are out to solve our greatest challenges.

The Step Up Loudoun Youth competition showcased its 20 semifinalist teams yesterday, and now the top 10 will advance to the finals round. The competition began last week with a field of 61 teams competing online.

The competition calls for students to identify real world problems, for which they hatch plans to solve. 

Teammates Marc Tchoumbou and Ryan Fincham, sixth graders at Smarts Mill Middle School, said their love of animals led them to launch “Saving Wildlife from Vehicle Collisions,” one of the top-10 projects. They made a road sign with blinking lights that would alert drivers that animals might be crossing the road. They hope to submit their plan to VDOT.

“We just like animals and we think it’s not fair how we hit them with our cars because we took over their original land,” Fincham explained. “So, we think it needed to change because it’s not fair to them.”

“I hate to see dead animals when we’re driving. It’s just all bad,” Tchoumbou said. They said they had a blast working on the project after school. They added that their teacher, Susan Scharr, was instrumental in researching for the project, working with VDOT to get pricing for their proposed road signs.

A team of 10 Blue Ridge Middle School students is seeking to make recycling a priority for their school.

“We learned originally about a circular economy, and we learned that would really help the planet in the future and we found out there are some countries that are trying to go fully circular with their economies in 2050. It will help the planet drastically. Recycling is a big part of that,” eighth grader Abigail Winn said.

The team is making sure that all classrooms have a recycling bin and that people know what materials can be recycled.

“If we don’t try to help our school as a start now … it can only get worse,” Bryan Barrett added.

A lot of students have the environment on their minds. Aarya Paranjpe’s project “Keeping Loudoun Beautiful” explores the possibility of planting school and community gardens. She aims to bring awareness to the importance of planting vegetation to combat carbon emissions.

“I think the most important thing is being able to make a difference. Knowing we’ll be able to make a difference in somebody else’s life and evoke change, that’s the most important thing,” she said. “It’s really fun doing this. It’s exhilarating.”

One team is aiming to help people stand tall. Pranav Kalidini, Pujitha Chibpala, Vibha Kattar, and Revanth Kathuroju created “Posture Monitor” to bring awareness to the effects of poor posture. They plan to create a wearable Bluetooth device that will buzz when the user should fix their posture. They report that the device will reduce long-term medical bills for users.

Jitesh Raj, seventh grader at Farmwell Hunt Middle School, created the app SOAR to help people with time management. 

“I am a big procrastinator. Many of my peers and friends and procrastinators too. I wanted to solve it. In life it’s all about work, it’s all about how to get things done and how to get to the next step. So, I wanted something that could aid people to do that,” Raj said, clarifying that it is OK to have some fun in life, too.

His app records the progress of people doing computer tasks. During his trails, 271 hours were recorded and the app saved users an average of 32 minutes per day.

“That adds up to six days a year,” he said.

Steve Wolfson, the executive director of Loudoun Youth, said he’s always impressed by the students who compete in Step Up.

“It’s always amazing to me that these are issues that resonate with these kids. They choose these issues. … They’re all passionate about their projects. It’s from them. Collectively as a group they spent 7,000 hours on the projects” he said.

Wolfson said that next week’s award ceremony will be special because the teams present one at a time and can watch the other teams’ presentations. 

“At the end of the night they’re all winners,” Wolfson said. 

REI Systems of Sterling is providing prize money for this year’s competition.

One thought on “Kids to the Rescue: Step Up Competitors Seek to Solve Everyday Problems

  • 2022-03-28 at 7:34 am

    This story renews my faith in humanity. The next generation will save the world. I’m always struck by how accepting young people can be. They’re not born with hate in their hearts. They really thrive in Loudoun County, which I call the Land of Love. Welcome to Spring Loudoun!

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