PALMETTO, Fla. — A tech-savvy 8th grader from Manatee County has taken it upon himself to help Ukrainian students transition to Florida classrooms.
Jace Billingsley attends Buffalo Creek Middle School, where several non-English-speaking Ukrainian students started this past fall.
Jace said he started developing "Class Translate" as a way to help one student in his class understand and participate in the material.
"We were having some difficulties talking to him because of the translation services," Jace said. "Sometimes the school didn't allow it on certain days, or sometimes, just one time, they just didn't work."
According to Jace, Class Translate uses Google Translate API or "application programming interface." But his program goes beyond Google Translate, adding more features that are applicable to the classroom setting.
That includes a reverse translation component which allows people to see in real-time whether their words were interpreted correctly. Class Translate also transcribes as you work, and allows users to download and save the entire log.
Coding and honing new software isn't how most 14-year-olds fill their free time, but Jace Billingsley isn't most 14-year-olds.
"I don't like to create games because you play it once and then you kind of are done with it," he said. "I like to make apps that make a difference."
Yes, that's apps, plural.
Two years ago, Jace created an app called "Code Blue," software for healthcare workers to use when patients go into cardiac arrest.
According to Jace's teacher, Thomas Lahey, Jace's new software is more effective than the translation alternatives.
"When I would type in what I wanted the student to do I could see if anything was lost in translation and then I could rephrase it so that he was able to get the work done," Lahey said.
While Jace's skills and ingenuity are impressive, his teacher is even more moved by his compassion.
"Certain kids, if you give them the tools and resources to do things, they'll make you proud," Lahey said.
Jace's app, Class Translate, won the Congressional District App Challenge last year.
His Code Blue app won the year before.
Jace and the other winners will head to Washington D.C. this Spring to showcase their work.