In the midst of all the well-intentioned discussions prompted by the nearly record-setting suicide rate in Taos County last year, five Taos-area high school students have taken an action that speaks for itself.
On Feb. 15, four Taos Academy students — Emmet Moulton, Sebastien Moulton, Zach Benton, Justis Daniels-Bezout — and one Taos High School student, Aryanna Zarazua, were bestowed the “best in nation” award for their submission of a teen suicide prevention app to the 2017 “Verizon Innovative Learning App” challenge.
The fifth annual contest tasked students in grades six through 12 with creating innovative solutions using mobile technologies. Approximately 1,800 projects were submitted in the competition.
“See Something. Say Something” – the now-well-known moniker of the app – was named as a winner this month, along with eight others created by students throughout the U.S. The “SEESAY” team, as the students and their faculty leaders are known, had previously won the award for “best in state” and “best in region.”
Local information technology (IT) consultant and program manager Luckie Daniels, 50, mother of Daniels-Bezout, served as project manager, guiding the students as they refined a concept and created a working prototype, designed to provide teens with the tools necessary to help prevent youth suicides, which saw a notable spike in the county last year.
“I was heartbroken after what happened,” said 17-year-old Daniels-Bezout. “I lost a lot of friends to suicide last year. I would see them every day when I came here to school. And it was very much, you know, one day they’re here – and the next, they’re not. So, we got together and started thinking, ‘What can we do? How can we impact this issue? And what does that look like?’ ”
The idea the students came up with combines what Daniels-Bezout described as “real-time crisis intervention with community and social engagement,” designed specifically for teens in distress.
Daniels-Bezout has an enthusiasm for all things “techie,” and rattled off a description laden with technical jargon to describe his team’s project. But the current iteration of the app presents an end user with a simple interface that cleanly presents its most important features: text and call suicide hotlines, as well as direct access to standard emergency medical services (EMS).
“Every function of this app was completely thought through,” Daniels-Bezout said proudly. “Every logistic, every legality – everything.”
The app also provides a forum to put teens in contact with one another. A standout feature is called “What’s your 140?” It provides a user with 140 characters to “talk someone down” from a suicidal situation.
Taos STEAM Academy, a local nonprofit formed by Daniels and local IT instructor Jeffrey Everett, introduced the competition to the schools and helped to form the SEESAY team. The “STEAM” acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Winning all three tiers of the competition, the students have been awarded $20,000 in additional funding for their project, as well as tablets and the opportunity to work with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists to further develop the app. This summer, the team will take an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, Florida, to present the app.
Daniels underscored the project’s importance for both Taos Academy and Taos Municipal Schools, which has partnered with the team on the initiative.
“Delivering STEAM skills development to all youth in the Taos community is our mission,” Daniels said, “and collaborating with local partners is a necessity. We are a small tight-knit community impacted by suicide far too frequently. To really make a difference, it’s vital we work together in this effort.”
The first official version of the app will become available through the Google Play Store at a date to be announced later this year. For more information, go to seesomethingsaysomething.today.