Abracadabra: There’s an app for that

Marlton student places third in congressional contest.

A Marlton student has been named one of the winners of the 2022 Congressional App Challenge, an annual competition for young students with interests in STEM, coding and computer science education.

Congressman Andy Kim announced that Ethan Friedman and Emanuel Cruzat, from   Rancocas Valley Regional High School, took the prize in the state’s third congressional district represented by Kim.

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Second-place winner was Aaryan Nagaria from Toms River; third place went to Ryan Mullin from Mount Laurel and Neha Blunt from Marlton. 

The challenge was founded in 2015 as a bipartisan initiative by the Congressional Internet Caucus to inspire, include and innovate efforts in STEM, coding and computer science education.  Rowan College at Burlington County’s (RCBC) computer science department and division of STEM, under associate dean Dr. Tiffani Worthy,  joined Kim in evaluating entries from around the school district.

The congressman explained that the goal of the challenge is to promote coding and computer science education to young students. 

“The app challenge is an exciting opportunity to showcase the talent of our local students and the power of innovation through computer science and coding.” 

The challenge is geared to middle- and high-school students. At 10, Blunt is the youngest entrant to compete in the district.  Her family decided to enter the competition after attending the kickoff meeting at Rowan. Blunt made a spelling app she called Abracadabra.

“I was browsing through RCBC’s event calendar and they had a kickoff for the Congressional App Challenge,” noted Riti, Neha’s mother. “I just happened to get the details of it and saw it was open to the public.

“We were thinking it would be a good exercise for Neha to just be involved in a coding environment.”

Blunt is a home-schooled student and began learning to code at a very young age. She has experience with Java, MIT Scratch, HTML/CSS Javascript, and MIT App Inventor programs.  Blunt has earned three credits in college-level algebra and is preparing for the Precalculus College Level Examination Programs (CLEP). 

She also is a lab assistant at the Marlton Kids Tech Club, which meets twice a month at the Evesham library to teach coding to kids from ages 5 to 12.

As the challenge required, Blunt made a submission video that explained how the app works and that the idea was a way to help teach her 6-year old sister to spell. The app has  quiz and learning modes. In quiz mode, a user first selects easy, medium or hard words, then the app offers a word for the user to spell in a text box. If correct, the user progresses to the next word. 

In learning mode, the app will teach its user how to spell a variety of words at different skill levels. Blunt built the app in MIT Scratch, a website that provides a free programming language and online community aimed at kids 8 to 16. The site uses a straightforward visual interface to enable students to create digital stories, games, and animations. 

Blunt has also been a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a gold medal given to recognize individuals, families, and groups who achieve a certain number of service hours within a 12-month period. She was cited for her efforts in teaching coding to other kids.

Blunt’s parents, residents of Marlton for 10 years, said they were pleasantly surprised to hear their daughter placed third.

“We encouraged her to go for it and definitely compete,’ said Riti Blunt, “but we told her,  ‘Don’t get your hopes up too much; you have stiff competition. All these kids are really good coders and put together very nice apps. But it’ll be a really great experience for you.”

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