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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    What’s Going On: Hall passes get 21st century makeover thanks to local student

    Qingyang “Frank” Gu, a senior at Bacon Academy in Colchester, shows off his senior project that he hopes will transform hall passes into an electronic format. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    Everyone remembers the hall pass, right?

    You had to go to the bathroom at school, you had to get a hall pass; you had to see a guidance counselor, fetch a hall pass; you had to bail out early for a sporting event, hall pass time.

    Can you believe that hall passes in most schools are still done the same old way? Yep. A slip of paper and a sign-out sheet.

    Well, Qingyang Gu, a senior at Colchester's Bacon Academy who goes by the name of Frank, thought he could develop a better way. So, for his senior project, the 18-year-old computer whiz developed Qingyang Gu’s Electronic Hall Pass system that can track the movement of students around school electronically.

    No more interrupting classes. No more questions about how long a student took to get from one classroom to another. It’s all right there on the computer for teachers and administrators to see and analyze. Students sign out and sign in electronically, stating their destination from a drop-down box.

    Simple, right?

    “I always wanted to make something on my own,” Frank told me last month at the Colchester school. “It definitely was a stressful experience.”

    But Frank was determined to leave Bacon Academy a little gift for all that his teachers and administrators had taught him.

    “I owe a lot to this school,” said Frank, who has always been excellent in math but struggled in other areas, having come to this country from China at age 9. “I was always behind in English.”

    Frank told me about some rough times he and his family experienced after the death of his stepfather. But one thing that kept him going was teaching himself many of the computer skills he has used to build an electronic hall-pass system.

    “I want to make it more accessible for teachers,” said Frank, who plans to study computer science at the University of Connecticut this fall. “It’s very easy to use, very transparent.”

    Students are tracked via their ID number, and administrators can run a number of searches to determine whether hall passes are being abused. For instance, they can look to see if one student is going to the bathroom multiple times, or groups of students are all checking out at the same time.

    In addition to a computer check-in and check-out system, Frank has also developed a QR code scanning method that allows students to wear badges and just scan them as they come in and out of classes.

    Frank said a lot of people around the school were tired of the old-fashioned hall pass system, and he put together a digital solution as part of a senior capstone presentation designed to “create exciting projects that benefit our community.”

    His personal project was called WAFS, which stands for Website, App, Forms and Scan. These were the four different ways he approached the project, designing solutions for each.

    “By using my technology and web development skills, I was able to collaborate with my principal, Amy Begue, and other office members to come up with an efficient alternative to the traditional hall pass,” he told me in an email that lured me up to take a look.

    Begue told me in an interview Friday that she suggested Frank tackle the hall-pass project after she heard a presentation from a company that would have charged the school a large amount of money to install it.

    “He just ran with it,” she said. “He designed something that basically companies are designing and selling.”

    Frank said there are easily 100 hall pass slips handed out every day at Bacon Academy, but many are not filled out correctly, so it’s hard to track where students are going and how long it takes them to get there. The paper, he said, goes right to the recycling bin, never to be analyzed.

    “With this system, you can see in real time exactly how much time someone is out,” he said.

    “My hall pass is not only free of cost, potentially saving school districts thousands of dollars each year on paper, but also environmentally friendly, eliminating the need of replacing bathroom sign-in and sign-out sheets daily. It gives administrators a centralized platform to sync all the hall passes together, thus making it easy to track throughout different classrooms.”

    He said it also allows administrators to share with parents data about the comings and goings of their kids while at school.

    It may seem a little Big Brother for some, but Begue pointed out that the school already has security cameras and even vape detectors that help track what students are up to.

    Frank said the hall-pass system, created using an open source code that could be updated by anyone with the knowledge to do so, can be used on a Chromebook, tablet or smartphone in addition to the badge system.

    He presented his project May 31 during a school assembly to a receptive audience, though for the most part Begue said Frank’s work has largely fallen under the radar at school.

    Though Frank will be gone next year, he is hopeful the school will implement the hall pass system in the next academic year, and he promised to come back to troubleshoot if they find any bugs. Begue is not sure whether the system is quite ready to be handed off for next year’s class, but is hopeful Frank at some point in his UConn career could gift Bacon Academy with a fully functioning app and website.

    “He pretty much taught himself how to do this,” Begue said.

    Thanks, Frank, for bringing the old hall pass into the 21st century. I guess it will be that much harder to get away with vaping in the boys’ room, but you have to admire a young man who has spent so many hours devising a better way to deal with a mundane issue.

    May his time at UConn turn out to be fruitful and full of more coding challenges.

    Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. Reach him at l.howard@theday.com.

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