abSENT: Cancelled classes at your fingertips

by Michael Sun, Features Reporter
photo courtesy of abSENT Instagram
From left: Karim, Yang, Vashevko (photo contributed by Kevin Yang)

Every morning, there is one thing that can either make or break a student’s day: the absence list. Though the absence list system has been around for as long as anyone can remember, sophomores Kevin Yang from South and Roshan Karim from North have made an app to revisualize the Schoology postings.

“One thing that I hate is having to check Schoology to get absent teachers,” Yang said. “Sometimes, I feel like a clown walking into a room, only to realize that no one’s here because a teacher is absent.” 

After coming back from Thanksgiving break, Karim and Yang were at a LigerBots meeting and found they had coincidentally come up with the same idea: an app to help Newton students better plan for the day by notifying them if their teachers are absent.

“I thought he was pulling a prank on me because I spent that weekend working on the exact same thing,” Yang said. “Roshan and I had worked on the same projects simultaneously without knowing about each other.”

They soon teamed up to create an app called abSENT, and more students joined them.  Sophomore Leah Vashevko, who helped work on the most recent version of abSENT, said that the school’s technology needs to be modernized. 

“Nobody is really satisfied with the state of the platforms our school gives us like Schoology and Aspen,” she said. “The upsetting thing is that the stuff that we have is actually state of the art. I have a family friend who works in the tech industry, and she says that Aspen is honestly one of the better systems, which is crazy to think about because it looks like it was built in 1960.”

Yang and Karim set to work on the project in Python. Karim said that they used an application programming interface (API) to make their program work.

“Schoology uses what’s called a REST API, and basically what this allows us to do is communicate easily with Schoology and get data from Schoology,” he said. “That allows us to pull every single update inside of this and just get that text into our program.”

Karim said that the project would not have been as enjoyable as it was if it weren’t for his strong friendship with Yang. 

“We were able to help each other a lot and fill gaps in each other’s knowledge,” he said. “It was much more enjoyable to talk to someone about a project rather than just doing something alone.”

While developing the platform, Yang spread the word about the project by campaigning on social media. 

“I created an Instagram and started following everyone I know, and then I clicked on their profiles and followed everyone they knew,” he said. “Now we have around 500 followers and we continue gaining followers.” 

Sophomore Spencer Solcoff, one of the initial testers for abSENT, said that he can foresee the program’s success after witnessing its overwhelming support. 

“I definitely see this becoming a mainstream thing at school, based on the fact that it was only marketed by making an Instagram account,” he said. “I’d say it’s already well off due to the fact that it has a couple hundred followers on Instagram already.”

Karim said that they had initially intended to set up abSENT through Text Now, a free SMS service, but that came with its own set of challenges. 

“We did not expect that there would be over 100 people within the first hour of launch that attempted to sign up, and that volume just overwhelmed the SMS provider,” he said. “I wasn’t exactly surprised, but it happened.”

Undaunted, they shifted their efforts to an application that will be released in the next few weeks, Karim said.

“Now the path is going to be slightly different,” he said. “We’re going to release an application, which we’ve already started developing. You can just get push notifications from that application,” he said. 

Yang envisions abSENT to not only become widespread at North and South, but in other schools as well. 

“We’ve made it modular, so we have specific portions that do specific things. What high schools can do is they can use our entire codebase, and then they can write their own version that will just grab [the list of] absent teachers in their own format from whatever platform they use,” he said. “My grander goal of abSENT is to have more high schools being able to use it, and so that fewer kids can be a clown.” 

Sophomore Michael Chang, an early tester for abSENT, said that the efficiency of the app will be convenient for students everywhere. 

“If it’s useful and it’s easy to use, then there’s definitely going to be widespread usability,” he said. “It lets you know the specific teacher that’s missing right away and it only lets you know if your teachers are actually missing.”

Yang and Karim have already started thinking about ideas for new apps, including an automatic South newsletter and an app that will allow users to compare schedules and lunch blocks with their friends. Ultimately, Yang hopes that his efforts will have a positive impact on the South community. 

“I hope that me doing abSENT has inspired other kids who can program or other kids who are interested in programming that can help out,” he said. “I know one of my friends has plans on making a trivia app now because of seeing the success of abSENT, so I hope perhaps it’s a beacon for South.”