Sunday, December 3, 2023

Two Warhill students started a website and won a congressional award (Free read)

Julian Curtis-Zilius and Zakeri Reckmeyer are seniors at Warhill High School that won the Congressional App Challenge for Virginia's 2nd District. (WYDaily/Courtesy Nicole Neal)
Julian Curtis-Zilius and Zakeri Reckmeyer are seniors at Warhill High School that won the Congressional App Challenge for Virginia’s 2nd District. (WYDaily/Courtesy Nicole Neal)

Editor’s note: We have made this story free to read in hopes that you will see firsthand our dedication to keeping our community informed and connected.  Will you consider now?  For just $1 a week, you will support non-editorial local news and be up to date on what’s happening in the community. Consider reading more by clicking here.

Two students from Warhill High School are combining classroom citizenship and technology with a new website—and they’ve won a congressional award for it.

In the fall, Julian Curtis-Zilius and Zakeri Reckmeyer, both seniors, submitted their computer code for their website “My Class Rewards” to the Congressional App Challenge.

The nationwide challenge is designed to encourage creativity and participation in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math by allowing students to submit their idea or creation of a software application on a platform of their choice, according to the U.S. House of Representatives website.

More than 10,000 students created and submitted 2,177 functioning apps last year.

U.S. Rep. Elaine Lauria (D-2nd) in January announced the two students as the winners in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. 

The 2nd district includes Accomack and Northampton counties, portions of York County, and the cities of Virginia Beach and Williamsburg and parts of the cities of Norfolk and Hampton.

Curtis-Zilius said he believes their website won because it not only was well-constructed but because it dealt with education.

My Class Rewards is a website that allows students to be rewarded for positive classroom citizenship. Through the site, students can track the virtual points they earn in class which can then be used for prizes, such as a free homework pass or a Warhill t-shirt.

The points are only earned in Nicole Neal’s computer science classes, which usually has about 60 students each semester. 

Curtis-Zilius said the idea from the website came from Neal, who had been using a points rewards system for students for years. 

“It’s just reward[ing] students for being a responsible citizen,” she said. “You’re doing what’s expected of you, helping someone in need, getting work done…Students like the fact that they can also get an incentive for doing the right thing as well as getting a grade.”

Neal said she started the program when she was working with middle school students but eventually found it was difficult to keep up with organizing all of the students’ points and what they were worth.

With the website created by Curtis-Zilius, who is Neal’s teacher’s assistant, and Reckmeyer, the system not only is more manageable but it gets the students involved in the process.

Students can track their points on the website and in the classroom they can manage the store where they decide the prices, manage orders and suggest ideas for new items.

Curtis-Zilius, who plans to study computer science in college, said working on the project taught him more about the social aspect behind programming.

“I’ve done a lot of programming projects before, so the website itself wasn’t super complicated to do,” he said. “But actually implementing it and getting the students to use it was the hard part.”

Neal said seeing the students work together showed her the programming projects are more than just teaching coding and technology, they also teach students how to grow and implement real-world social skills.

Once Curtis-Zilius and Reckmeyer graduate, Neal said the work on the website will continue to the next generation of students and she hopes that one day the system will spread to the rest of the school.

“As much as I would like to say that we do programming and we like for them to be on computers, it’s always good for students to unplug and find something they can have a connection with,” Neal said. “Things like this…I think it makes students more well-rounded.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

Related Articles