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The menu screen of the Illumination app features different resources to help students. (Photo by Emily Chen)

A group of students at AHS has created the Illumination app designed to give students coping resources for stressful times when counselors may not be available.

The app was created by AHS senior Trisha Ballakur and sophomore Mitali Gupte along with Neel Bhalla of Lexington and Srija Nagireddy of Acton. It aims to uplift teenagers and help build emotional resilience by providing them with helpful resources and activities. Pilot-testing in which students will try out the app is planned for the next two H1 periods on April 6 and April 25.

“You’ll just be trying out the app whenever you need its resources,” said Ballakur, one of the creators of the app. “Depending on whatever mood you are, good, okay, or pretty bad, it gives you a list of resources or activities like talking to a friend.”

The idea for Illumination was created after two suicides occurred in the school of a friend of Ballakur’s and after an AHS student committed suicide two years ago. Ballakur and her friends realized that there were not any coping resources for students when they were not in school, and they decided to create Illumination to remedy that.

“We called it the ‘after-school support gap,’ the whole idea that there are resources in school following a tragedy, but not afterwards — when you’re at home, you have your own home environment,” said Ballakur. “We were thinking of a lot of different solutions to it…. We had so many of these coping skills, and we realized we should just put them together in an app.”

Ballakur consulted with various social workers, counselors, and health teachers from around the school to verify that the ‘after-school support gap’ was a more universal experience. They helped to provide ideas for resources and support for the app. However, the app is still a work-in-progress, and the pilot-testing will help provide Ballakur with more useful information.

“It sounds like a cool idea, and it seems like because it’s an app it’s more approachable than a counselor would be, so it’s cool that we’re kind of taking the human factor out of it,” said freshman Adi Briskin. “I know that if I was having a hard day, I’d find it easier to open an app on my phone than actually have to ask a human person.”

Pilot-testing was originally planned for the end of the 2016 and 2017 school year; however, Illumination at the time was only available on Android, so the date was postponed until the creators could transfer the app to iOS.

“We really want to spread it to as many people as we can, and right now the purpose of the pilot is just to get feedback on our concept,” said Ballakur. “Kids are really where we’re going to see what works and what doesn’t work. They’re the ultimate users of this app.”

Illumination was also entered into the Congressional App Challenge, a program where districts across forty-two states host app challenges for students. Illumination was the winner of Massachusetts’s 6th Congressional District chosen by Representative Seth Moulton. Ballakur and her fellow creators will be demonstrating the app in Washington D.C. next month, according to Ms. Dibenedetto, the advising teacher of the Girls Who Code club.

“Our goal is really to spread Illumination and to give it to the users, who are teenagers across the country, across the world. We thought that the best way to do that is to enter into all these competitions,” said Ballakur.

However, Ballakur does not plan on stopping only at Illumination. In addition to the Congressional App Challenge, she has also won the NCWIT aspirations award for women in STEM for Illumination alongside her other CS accomplishments, and she has ideas for the future as well.

“I’ve been thinking about a couple other apps,” said Ballakur. “One thing I’m pretty passionate about stopping is human trafficking. I would absolutely love to maybe work on an app that would detect things like that.”

By Emily Chen