ST. JOSEPH — Jack Hirsh has liked coding since he attended elementary school.
On Friday, the eighth-grader was able to showcase his metal bot set and a website he had created to address the opioid epidemic during the Ren Baldwin Student Technology Festival.
“I like the logic behind it,” said Jack, 14, when asked about his infatuation with coding. “I’m really math-minded.”
Held in the St. Joseph High School student center, nearly 1,000 students across the district had projects on display that were created over the course of the school year.
Stations were set up with diverse offerings, such as a virtual reality presentation and the Average Joes robotics team giving a demonstration on how their robot can collect large rubber balls.
The tech fest is a product of the technology bond approved by voters in 2010. However, there have been subtle changes over time.
Amy Dirlam, director of instructional technology and K-12 media for the district, said they introduced an additional grand prize this year for each age group. Now there is an award geared toward student passion projects.
Projects are screened internally and later judged by other educational technology specialists.
“It’s the first year we’re doing this,” Dirlam said of the added awards. “Judges had such a difficult time when it came to choosing last year.”
The annual event, sponsored by the St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation, is named after a former technology director who retired a year before the tech fest began.
About 700 students participated in its first year. Now it has since grown to nearly 1,000 participants. Students ranged from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Among those showing their yearlong projects was senior John Adkins.
For the past year he and several classmates created a virtual tour of downtown St. Joseph – including visuals of war memorials and the lighthouse by Silver Beach.
John said his group took 3-D images and uploaded them so they could be viewed through a virtual reality headset. For their efforts, the group received a first place award within the presentation category of the tech fest.
“I think it’s something really cool to have and use,” he said. “Virtual reality has the capability to take us to where we can’t go.”
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