Two kids work on a bench

Kirk Walker and Jaden Hall, 8th-grade students at Ashland Middle School, work on a device to help alert students in the event of an emergency. The project won an award during Kentucky’s Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) 2023 State Championship in April.
Photo submitted by Mark Harmon

A team of students from Ashland Middle School (Ashland Independent) will be heading to Philadelphia in June to present their prototype for a school safety device at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.

Each year, students from across Kentucky work to find technology-based solutions for big, real-world problems through the Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP). In April, Ashland Middle and other teams from the Commonwealth brought their projects to Central Bank Center in Lexington to compete at the 2023 Kentucky STLP state championships, where the Ashland team took first place in their age group, sending them on to the international event.

Ashland Middle chose to focus on the issue of school safety. The team consisted of six students who created a device that will assist in alerting and barricading students inside classrooms in the event of an emergency. They also created a separate tool for law enforcement to use to disarm the device.

The device can be attached to each classroom door and is available for a teacher to turn on at any moment. In the event of an emergency, such as a hostile intruder, teachers would need only to flip a switch and the device will deadbolt the door shut. In addition to locking students safely inside the classroom, the device also will sound an alarm to inform the entire school that there is an emergency.

Once the threat has been neutralized, law enforcement can simply wave a previously paired Bluetooth tool in front of the classroom door, and the device will disarm.

Kirk Walker and Jaden Hall are two 8th-grade students that were heavily involved in the creation of the device.

“The original idea was just an alarm, but we expanded on that idea,” Jaden said.

Kirk said the students built six or seven prototypes before they landed on this one.

A group of people stand around a table

Ashland Middle School will present at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia in late June.
Photo submitted by Mark Harmon

With the reality of school shootings in mind, Ashland Middle School students said they needed a plan to protect themselves and potentially other schools.

“At the start of the project, it wasn’t a personal issue, but we had an outside threat at our school, and that fueled our determination,” Jaden said.

Kirk said that “If we, as a tiny town, are getting threats, imagine how many more everyone else must be getting … If we can save one life with this, it’ll be worth it.”

More than 20,000 students, educators, community members and parents attended the 2023 STLP conference. The judges evaluated all the projects throughout the day until 20 projects were selected as finalists. The judges then identified the top teams of the competition in four categories:

  • Best Grade 9-12 project: Trimble County High School
  • Best Grade 6-8 project: Ashland Middle School
  • Best Grade K-5 project: Elementary School (Boyd County)
  • Best Technical Project: Atherton High School (Jefferson County).

Each school will present at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia in late June.

Mark Harmon, Ashland Independent’s STEM instructor, led the team as their adviser.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of these students,” he said. “They have strived for months to make their solution as comprehensive as possible and it was very rewarding to see their hard work pay off the way it did.”