Los Gatos students launch anti-bias app
As Los Gatos High School teachers and administrators work to integrate anti-racial bias teachings into the curriculum, a group of students has been toiling behind the scenes to develop a smartphone app they hope will eliminate prejudice.
Later this month, the developers will demonstrate the app at an open house.
The app is at the core of the student-led Filos Project, aimed at combating prejudice and social stereotypes. Students who join the project are asked to take a pledge that they’re committed to getting “rid of hatred and prejudice.”
Filos means friend in Greek, but in this case it’s also an acronym for “First Impressions Live On Subconsciously.” The Filos idea originated last spring when student Gabriel Sandoval was writing a paper about “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“I realized then that if people knew each others’ backgrounds better, they might not be prejudiced,” Gabriel said.
His mom, high school English teacher Kristen Austin, told him, “There must be an app for that.” She shared the idea with senior Shomil Jain.
Shomil and other students spent last summer developing the app for iPhones. An Android app is expected soon.
“We have an algorithm that helps us get a sense of what a student is like— their life experiences, issues they’re facing, activities—things that shape their lives,” Shomil said. “The algorithm tries to open your horizons, so you experience things you haven’t experienced before.”
There’s a role for teachers and students because the app is designed for the classroom. Teachers open an account and request a session with another classroom, and the algorithm purposely connects two classes with different characteristics. The algorithm continues to anonymously pair students within the participating classrooms and they begin chatting.
Although the project was already being discussed when last spring’s racist prom proposal controversy surfaced, the developers said that “pushed it along.”
“The blackface incident showed the need for exposure here,” senior Quintin Leary said. “One void we’re trying to fill is to get people to form personal connections with people they might not have the opportunity to interact with.”
Eventually, it’s hoped the Filos platform will connect students everywhere. But for now, the connections are limited to the high school.
Senior Binat Gousinov was one of the first to test the app and gave it high marks.
“The testers set up accounts and once we filled out a questionnaire we were matched up with another tester,” Binat said. “I didn’t know who it was, so I sent an ‘ice-breaker’ question asking if anything was bothering him or her and the conversation evolved from there.”
The students believe that keeping chats anonymous will also keep people from forming judgments. But the ultimate goal is for the anonymous chats to lead to face-to-face relationships and friendships, Austin said.
Junior Ana Cismaru said the high school’s department heads were enthusiastic about the app when the developers spoke to them a few weeks ago.
Teachers, students and other community members are invited to learn more about the app and how it works on at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 when the developers hold an informational meeting at the the school library, 20 High School Court.
Also visit filosproject.org for more information.
Filos Project members, from left, Ana Cismaru, Shomil Jain and Gabriel Sandoval review data from their app that they hope it will help eliminate prejudice at Los Gatos High.