Class develops iPhone app ‘tour’
Students research, take photos of historical sites
SARATOGA SPRINGS On any given summer day, the streets of Saratoga Springs are bustling with locals and tourists, strolling and enjoying the historic sites the city has to offer.
But many visitors and even locals may not know the history behind the popular sites in the city.
The new Tour Through Time walking iPhone app, developed by Saratoga Springs High School students and Garnet River, a local technical consulting firm, looks to inform, educate and allow people to enjoy Saratoga to the fullest.
“What we’ve realized and what we’ve kind of stressed to the students is that this wasn’t just a project for the sake of a project,” said Colleen McMahon, the senior business analyst and general counsel for Garnet River. “This is part of the overarching Saratoga — the instinct we have as Saratogians to protect and to encourage tourism.”
This summer, Saratoga Springs will celebrate 150 years of thoroughbred racing and is looking back on how the city has changed over time. About a year ago the Saratoga 150 committee in charge of the celebration came up with an idea to develop a free iPhone app that covers many of the city’s historical buildings and landmarks.
“This is one more thing to increase tourism,” McMahon said. “And to educate people on how awesome our town is.”
The Saratoga 150 committee approached Saratoga High School and Garnet River to take on development of the app. Using state-of-the art GPS technology, the free application was developed. It includes three main walking tours: Congress Park, Broadway and the more residential area, East Side.
The students from Saratoga High who worked on the app and ultimately developed it were part of the 21st Century Academy class offered to seniors.
The class of 80 students was created about two years ago. It is project-based and designed to foster 21st century skills, according to Leanne Donelan, one of the teachers for the class. Students focus on the four main subjects in school: math, science, English and social studies, while trying to incorporate what they learn into the real world.
Donelan, who is also a social studies teacher, focused on the history part of the class and was in charge of overseeing the research for the Saratoga app project. A lot of the research was gathered from the Saratoga Springs Public Library, Donelan said.
Students were able to utilize the archives in the Saratoga Room, a room in the library entirely dedicated to Saratoga history, with the help of Donelan and the Saratoga Public Library. They gained access to records, old newspaper articles and archive photos. The information students gathered later became the foundation for the app.
“All 80 students in our program helped make the app in terms of research,” Donelan said. “They were the ones who did the research, the writing and the picture-taking,”
Donelan helped narrow down the research from 100 potential historical sites to 26. Each site includes a GPS location, historical information, an archive photo and a current photo.
“Once all the raw research was done, and the content basically for the app was done, we gave it to Garnet River,” Donelan said. “And then I established a leadership team.”
The leadership team, made up of six students, has worked with Garnet River on the app since February. With the help of Mike Woytowich, the senior software engineer from Garnet River, the students would meet once a week to share ideas, tips, research and test out the app.
“We tried to run it like we would run any other project,” Woytowich said. “We had deadlines.”
The students on the leadership board also helped with more technical aspects of the app, such as graphic design. But they left the coding to Woytowich and the salutatorian of their graduating class, Josh Jameson, who is an intern at Garnet River.
“All of the different written material was all done by the students,” student Josh Visser said. “The students did a lot. We got to use our creative talents.”
Visser in particular, who is interested in radio, used his abilities to promote the app on local radio stations. He also delved into graphic design along with Leah Mailloux, another student on the leadership board.
“Coming together and learning about the history of Saratoga was fascinating,” Mailloux said. “I really liked it.”
Many students agreed with Mailloux, saying they liked the idea of doing something that helped their community. Visser pointed out he liked “keeping it local.”
“There is a lot we can do,” said Alex Robinson, a student on the leadership board. “A lot of different things we can develop that will benefit the community.”
The app is very professional, Donelan said, and she is pleased with the outcome. She enjoyed seeing students excited about their coursework.
“They are so much more engaged when they are doing something that they feel matters,” Donelan said.
According to McMahon, when students presented the app to Saratoga 150 they were pleased.
“They have been absolutely amazing,” McMahon said.
The app has already been downloaded more than 300 times, according to McMahon.
The app can be downloaded for free in the iTunes app store by searching Tour Through Time Saratoga.