There’s no question that this school year has been different from any before. Facing the challenges of having to adapt to remote, hybrid, or in-person learning during a global pandemic, the creation of innovative tools to make scheduling and attendance easier is essential. Who’s better at creating innovative solutions than members of the FIRST® community? Members of former FIRST® LEGO® League team NXTreme who participated in the 2009 SMART MOVESM Challenge have been working on a tool to help schools since they were tasked with that season’s Challenge over 12 years ago.
Today, their Innovation Project turned business/App, PickUp Patrol, is in 3 countries, 34 states, and countless schools. Thanks in part to the creative thinking and technical skills the members learned from their experience in FIRST, the PickUp Patrol App has been adapted to fit the current needs of schools during the pandemic.
The team from Mont Vernon, NH, USA created PickUp Patrol as their SMART MOVE Project after being tasked with the season’s Challenge, addressing the problem of transportation within their community. At the time, the kids saw that their rural school district, who was using notes and other processes to keep track of student attendance, needed a technical solution to help staff keep things streamlined.
Team NXTreme, 2009
The 4th-6th grade team members got to work, creating a prototype of an app where parents could make changes to their child’s attendance from their phone or computer, and office staff could keep track of what was going on in real time. Teachers would be automatically alerted to be apprised of students’ schedules. The kids presented the Project to their school board via a puppet show, and the school board loved the idea so much that they gave them the green light to build the app! The team got to work, with Coach Eric Edvalson and other mentors teaching the kids how to code. After a year, the team had a working version of the PickUp Patrol App.
Implementing PickUp Patrol at a school
In 2009, the Global Innovation Awards had not been created yet, so the team found another contest for middle school students where they competed, won, and received money to fund the development of their project. They continued to participate in FIRST LEGO League during this time, earning a spot at the FIRST Championship in 2012 where they won the first place Programming Award.
At the 2012 FIRST Championship in St. Louis, MO, USA
After their appearance at Championship and a trip to the White House Science Fair to showcase their invention, the app started taking off. Around this time, the team applied for an accelerator within their home state of New Hampshire and received intensive business training. By now, the kids were starting high school, and Coach Maria Edvalson, now COO and Co-Founder of PickUp Patrol, always encouraged the kids to pitch their web application rather than the adults, often to the initial hesitation of others.
Team members meeting with former NH Governor Maggie Hassan and other business leaders.
“[They were] Better than us adults, I really think their FIRST skills shined all the way through”, Maria said of the student’s communication skills.
By now, PickUp Patrol needed an upgrade, so the team brought in mentors, re-wrote the app, and officially started their company. Through the years, some kids from Team NXTreme dropped off, pursuing college and careers. Today, 3 original team members have equity in the company and 1 works full time for PickUp Patrol as a software engineer. “It’s been a long haul!” says Maria of the team’s journey.
PickUp Patrol’s core product is still intact today with additional features to address the changing needs of schools during COVID. During Summer 2020, the PickUp Patrol team joined reopening task forces to learn about the problems schools were encountering as they prepared for the new academic year. During these conversations, they learned that health screening and social distancing during dismissal time were going to be especially difficult for schools to manage. To address this, the PickUp Patrol team added several features to their app.
The app that had humble beginnings in rural New Hampshire continues to gain users with schools in 34 states, Canada, and the Dominican Republic currently using the product.
“The things they learned back then still carry us through what we do now.” says Maria about PickUp Patrol. The simple but effective design the kids created has endured time and is well received by school staff and parents alike.
“FIRST is such a great program; we had so much fun with it. So many great memories. What a great program, great all the way around.”
For more information about PickUp Patrol, visit https://www.pickuppatrol.net/.
Interested in learning more about how FIRST inspires innovation? Learn more.