Samantha Pratt was in her second year of teaching in Liberty City when she decided to start each class with an open discussion, asking students to talk about whatever was on their minds.
Because many of Pratt's students come from impoverished backgrounds and difficult neighborhoods, they had a lot to talk about: gunfire, drug use and chronic illnesses affecting their families.
"A student came in one day and said they saw someone die in front of their house," Pratt said. How could they learn with such heavy hearts? she wondered.
She began letting students record their emotional well-being on an iPad — and an idea for an app was born.
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Research revealed that Miami-Dade schools have just one mental health counselor for every 533 students. That means that a high school with 1,000 students has just two emotional support staff.
"Children in Miami-Dade are being under supported," she said.
Her app, KlickEngage, is aimed at helping students clear their minds and helping teachers understand how to work with them more effectively.
KlickEngage won third place in the 2018 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. Judges said the app addressed a clear, urgent need. Pratt, a Teach for America alumnus, has participated in several business accelerators, and is partnering with major nonprofits and national organizations to help the business grow.
Here's how the app works: Each morning, students check in on KlickEngage and rate their level of emotional well being. Depending on their response, they are directed to mindfulness and coping strategies. Teachers are also alerted to kids showing up as "red," or in the highest state of stress, and can thus give them more one-on-one attention. The app will let teachers track student's progress over time, enabling them to be proactive with students most at risk.
"It's about students being able to self-regulate — to name their emotions," Pratt said.
This year, Pratt tested the concept with a fourth-grade class. The feedback from students was so overwhelming that other teachers now want to give it a try.
"This pilot demonstrated that students not only enjoyed participating in KlickEngage, but also came to rely on the consistency," she wrote in her original pitch for the Challenge. "Students have expressed a desire to be able to re-report their feelings throughout the day as they change. They also wanted to be able to digitally engage with coping tools."
She is now developing the app with the help of Miami-based Bushido Lab, a boutique coding firm, and working with another business partner she met through Teach for America.
The plan is to sell the app to schools and school districts, which would distribute the app quickly and be more manageable than individual sales. Individual teachers also will be able to download the app.
She is seeking seed funding to commission Bushido Lab to create a basic prototype to be launched by the coming academic year. A full-scale prototype will cost approximately $40,000.
Now in her third year with Miami-Dade schools, Pratt will attend Harvard's graduate school of education next year and continue developing KlickEngage.
"We need to be reaching every single student in low income schools every single day," she said.
This article has been updated.