An idea borne from tragedy is now catapulting a team of students into the national spotlight. Along with about 4,000 other schools across the nation, kids from Northeast High School in Oakland Park entered the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest.
"We didn't know how it was going to turn out or where it was going to take us, but we put our ideas out there and it ended up turning out really good," said Melinda Hosang, a member of the student team.
Their idea was to create a design for a buoy that would warn swimmers at the beach that a rip current was nearby. The floating sensor would have an underwater, remote-controlled robot to guide it into place, depending on where lifeguards deemed rip currents most likely to form on any given day.
The Samsung judges liked the concept so much, the team from Northeast High finished first in the state of Florida and is now in the top 15 nationally.
The waters weren't always smooth. Engineers from FAU told the kids their first design would not work.
"So we jumped back to the drawing board and came up with a few better ideas," explained Austin Kirkland, one of the team leaders.
The idea for creating a rip current warning system came when one of their classmates, Edwin Castanon, drowned in a rip current last summer.
"It stemmed from tragedy, but we're using that tragedy as inspiration," said team member Jade Grosfield.
After they started building their concept, one of the team members, Karly Garrison, lost a family member in a drowning accident.
"We wanted to find something that could help turn our personal loss into something that could help others," Karly said.
The project has taught the kids how the spark of innovation can turn into something real and tangible. They learned values such as perseverance, and honed their problem-solving skills.
"Teamwork, that's the number one thing," said Austin Kirkland, describing what he got out of the experience. "Just because you know one thing doesn't mean that you know everything."
"Any time you can do something that's hands-on, when the kids are working and they're building projects, they're using tools, and it's not just a paper and pencil and computer, it's preparing them for real life," said Principal Anthony Valachovic.
Valachovic said the kids are walking on cloud nine, and the entire school is rooting for them. Four of the team members are going to New York next week for final judging. The top five schools will be declared national winners, and each school will receive $120,000 in technology upgrades.
Here's how you can help: Tweet using both hashtags #SamsungSolve and #SamsungSolveNEHS. Part of each team's score is based on how many hashtags are counted.
Whatever happens, it's obvious the kids from Northeast High are already winners.