by John Field
In the wake of last spring’s controversial promposals, a talented group of LGHS students hope to make a positive difference with The Filos Project, an app designed to facilitate opportunities for students to talk with others “from entirely different backgrounds, communities, and creeds,” leading to “mutual understanding and harmony,” according to the app’s website. Filos addresses the issue of not having the ability to connect with those in a different walk of life.
Filos, which translates to friend in Greek and also means “first impressions live on subconsciously,” is a platform connecting students of different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to each other through an anonymous chat. Registered teachers can create a class, which students join with a code; teachers then request a session and are paired with a class from a school that is significantly different based on students’ profiles and data such as income, location, and demographics. In each class, students with different interests are paired in a supervision-free private chat.
Students are oblivious to each other’s names, gender, race, or anything else that could provide as a barrier to conversation. To handle the inevitable occurrences of cyberbullying, the app includes a flagging system that pauses the chat and alerts the teacher, who discuss the issue with the student in person.
Eventually, the developers hope to include a feature where the app can be used internationally using Google Translate, so each student communicates in their own language but can share experiences.
The idea originated with sophomore Gabe Sandoval, who created an English project on To Kill a Mockingbird; he wondered if the trial described in the book between Mayella and Tom Robinson could have been avoided if people knew each other’s stories and differences better.
English teacher Kristen Austin, Sandoval’s mother, was discussing this topic with him and commented that he should make an app. After searching, it was apparent that the idea of a barrierless communication method had not been put into practice yet.
Austin approached senior Shomil Jain about this idea, knowing that he had made the LGHS app. Jain thought that it had potential, and began development over the summer, meeting with Austin during the process. Several weeks in, he had a basic but functional prototype.
Later in the summer, he approached two other coders to recruit for the project: senior Quintin Leary, who aided Jain on the iOS version of the app, and junior Ana Cismaru, who began work on an Android app. Jain said that he realized this could be “bigger than just an app we launched,” and it could help by “bringing some of that good name back to the school,” because after the blackface promposal, everyone saw LGHS in a negative light. Cismaru commented that they “wanted to show [the public]” that that isn’t what LGHS is. “We are students, doing something that’s the opposite” of what happened last spring. “One of our core beliefs is that the source of a lot of people’s prejudice is a lack of exposure to people that come from different walks of life. What we want to do is facilitate opportunities for people to form personal connections with people that they would otherwise never get a chance to interact with,” Leary elaborated.
Throughout the process, the developers frequently consulted Austin, who helped them implement questions for each student’s profile so the app can pair them successfully; she also aided the creation of discussion questions to facilitate conversation.
In the beginning of the school year, they began to look at the possibility of turning The Filos Project into a non-profit organization, so they talked with lawyers. As the project became more serious, they added two more developers to the team: seniors Kate Zepecki and Cassandra Melax. The Filos Project is officially incorporated as of Aug. 23, and currently their nonprofit status from the IRS is pending.
On Sept. 27, the organization will be holding a public forum, where they will present the project in the LGHS library at 7 PM and hold a Q&A session for any students or teachers who want to know more. From there, Jain said they hope to scale quickly and get more people on board. For the project to work, they’ll need as many schools as possible participating, as well as the support of LGHS students and teachers to spread the word.
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