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Richmond Hill Middle School named Community Choice Winner in STEM competition
RHMS stem win
Samsung’s Ann Woo, RHMS teachers Casey Collins and Brian Soash, Gabrielle Mondesir, Jessica Boyes and Paula Labbe, a teacher whose students won in 2022. Photo provided.

After making a run to the finals Richmond Hill Middle School’s STEAM team wasn’t one of three national winners in Samsung’s Solve For Tomorrow STEM contest, it was announced Tuesday in Washington, D.C..

They were winners all the same, thanks to online voting that earned them the community choice award and an additional $10,000 in prizes for the school.

It was also an experience of a lifetime for the teachers and students involved in project Safe Sleep, an app meant to awaken and calm veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD. The app works by detecting increases in heart rates due to PTSD nightmares and triggers a companion app to play breathing exercises.

Among those representing RHMS in Washington were eighth graders Gabrielle Mondesir and Jessica Boyes, who won a competition at school to pitch their team’s idea to Samsung judges.

The nationwide competition for public middle and high school students awards $2 million annually in prizes to teams demonstrating how they use STEM – short for science, technology, engineering and math -- skills to create positive change and address pressing issues in their local communities.

Richmond Hill, which includes arts in the school’s STEM program, hence STEAM, was one of 10 finalists out of some 1,000 entrants, and has now won $60,000 in technology prizes in this year’s

competition. Boyes, who said her parents Alan and Sharon Boyes were “a huge support,” during the project, noted the team decided to do something to help veterans due to the proximity of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

“Being a part of this competition has been a privilege for the school,” she said, adding, “there are many issues associated with communities that as students we’ve never thought about that affect not only people in our community, but people nationwide.”

Mondesir, credited her mother, Nichole Mondesir, and grandfather, Michael Buck, for their support, said the idea that Safe Sleep got the most votes out of all the projects in the competition was inspiring in itself.

“That’s very exciting,” she said. “The vote was open to everybody and anybody across the world, and out of all those teams we were the ones that got the most votes.”

RHMS teacher Casey Collins has been credited by Brian Soash, director of the school’s STEAM program, as playing an important role in the project.

Collins said Tuesday she was proud of all the students involved in developing Safe Sleep.

“They are very creative and inspiring group of students,” Collins said. “It was a joy to watch them to develop Safe Sleep throughout this school year. These students will go far in whatever path they choose for their careers. It’s an honor to win the Community Choice award in the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow Competition, Richmond Hill really came together to support this team, Bryan County Schools, and all students. This $60,000 will go a long way to creating access to amazing technology for students. Richmond Hill is an amazing place to call home.” While in Washington, the RHMS team got to meet U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., who spoke to the all students at the presentations and congratulated winners.

“I just want to take a moment and congratulate all the students who are here for this amazing achievement represented by your trip here to Washington,” he said. “But more importantly, I want to thank you for the amazing work that you’ve done innovating improving how young minds equipped with technology and resources and dream of ways to lift people up, to solve tough problems, to make life easier and less painful for your fellow human beings.

“And to promote a healthy and sustainable future. For all of us here in the United States. And around the world.

And then he gave the home state team a boost.

“I of course want to honor and thank all of the students here. But I do have to play favorites: A special shout out to the students from Richmond Hill Middle, in the great state of Georgia. Congratulations to you for your achievements.”

While neither Boyes nor Mondesir were ready to declare a major in science, both said their experiences with STEAM have given them reason to thin.

“I’m not sure what I want to do yet, but it’s opened my eyes to a lot more career paths,” Boyes said. “This has definitely been a highlight of my school year.”

Mondesir, who said she’s thinking of law school, international affairs or working in business, found STEAM helped her learn she could “think critically.”

“It really has been a great experience,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be capable of doing these kinds of things, but it shows me I have the capacity to make change.”

In an email, RHMS principal Dr. Elizabeth Bennett said the school is “beyond proud of our students and staff who participated in this challenge. Furthermore, we are grateful for the support from the Richmond Hill and Bryan County Schools community. The experience our students gained from this opportunity in invaluable. Thank you to all who made this possible! Go Wildcats!”

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