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SBJC Students Take First at Innovation Fair

East Rutherford -- At an event where twelve school districts showed off their innovations, it was a group of students from the South Bergen Jointure Commission that took home the overall innovation award.

Their project was Oinkster, a cartoon pig designed specifically for nonverbal students at their school. With four buttons located on its head, ears, throat, and stomach, Oinkster exclaims what specific part of its body is in pain when pressed.

“We first wanted to make an AI that read sign language, but we didn’t have the technology for it. So we decided to make a cheaper alternative to communication devices. That led us to developing Oinkster,” says an SBJC student.

Hosted by Becton Regional High School, the Innovation Fair was inspired by the idea that innovation starts with empathy. Students participating identified problems that were real to those in their school, impacting peers or teachers. They then worked through the engineering design process towards the development of a prototype using microcomputers and microboards, such as the Raspberry Pi, Arduino Uno, MakeyMakey, and the Bare Conductive Touchboard

To construct Oinkster, an SBJC student first sketched a design using Adobe Draw and created a wooden model using the school’s laser cutter. The team set up a Raspberry Pi as their computer and programmed the code using software called Scratch. Then the innovators connected a MakeyMakey to the Raspberry Pi to take over keyboard controls and connected the MakeyMakey to arcade buttons they had leftover from a previous project.

After the Fair, SBJC students plan on putting Oinkster in the school nurse’s office to help their peers better communicate.

The South Bergen Jointure Commission is a public school district providing special education services for over 300 students in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Behavioral Disorder, and Multiply Disabled programs. Some students from the district participate in an after-school club that focuses on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) topics. It was these students that designed Oinkster, specifically for their classmates who are unable to explain where they might be feeling pain.

The South Bergen Jointure Commission formed the South Bergen STEAM League in 2015, coordinating STEAM-related events by inviting all of their sending districts to participate and providing them with the materials necessary to compete. Among those that took part in the Innovation Fair were Becton Regional High School, Bogota Jr./Sr. High School, Carlstadt Public School, East Rutherford’s Alfred S. Faust School, Garfield Middle School, Hasbrouck Heights Middle/High School, Lyndhurst Public School, North Arlington High School, Moonachie Robert L. Craig School, Rutherford Union School, South Hackensack Memorial School, and Wood-Ridge Middle/High School.

Awards were also given in the categories of Most Innovative Middle School Project, Middle School and High School Empathy Award, and Middle School and High School Idea award. The Middle School Most Innovative Award was given to Carlstadt, whose students developed a working prototype they called Sprout, an Arduino-based device that can feed and water plants in their classroom when school is not in session. The Middle School Empathy Award was given to Garfield’s prototype of a pop-up stop sign that helps draw attention to vehicles when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. A tie for the Middle School Idea Award was given to Robert L. Craig School and Hasbrouck Heights Middle School.

The Fair was also the first South Bergen STEAM League Competition that involved high school students competing against each other. Becton Regional High School, whose students have officiated the League’s middle school events in the past, won the High School Idea Award for their Lite-Savior, an Arduino device used to help save electricity by means of a light sensor. Becton also won the evening's VEX EDR Robotics Competition, going undefeated against five teams.

Three STEAM competitions are held throughout the year: a Bridge Building Competition, VEX IQ Robotics Competition, and the Innovation Fair. The South Bergen Jointure Commission established this league so that their students could compete alongside their general education peers.The events are meant to challenge students of different levels of academic abilities and develop their talents and skills through competition.