Sister act: Two Cleveland Heights students team up to create an A+ app for homeschoolers

Cleveland Heights sisters Maya and Nina Serna haven’t even completed high school, and keep a busy academic and social schedule but in their spare time, they've spent the last two years developing an app specifically to help students who are homeschoolers like themselves.

The two have been homeschooled by their parents, Victor and Danielle, since they started their formal education. But 16-year-old Maya (an 11th grader) and 13-year-old Nina (an eighth grader) noticed one problem in keeping track of their grades and hours worked on each subject.


“When I started high school, I had this book of graph paper,” Maya recalls. “For every hour of work, I would color in a square. But I had a really hard time remembering to get the book out and mark the squares off.” Adds Nina, “A lot of people will write their hours down on paper.”

The two thought there had to be a better way to track their hours. First, Maya tried making a Google spreadsheet, which worked so well a friend asked if she could use it. Using knowledge they gained through coding academies and camps, Maya and Nina then took the Google spreadsheet a step further and developed Homie Schooler—an app for homeschool students in high school to track their hours, keep track of their grades, and build their official school transcripts.

With Homie Schooler due to launch in early November, Victor is working with programmers to finalize the details, and they plan to file for a utility patent. The app will be available for both iOS and Android.

The app is free for the first high school year that it is downloaded. “We call that a ‘freemium,’ and it has a small ad banner,” the sisters explain, adding that the user can upgrade at any time. “The premium version, which is ad-free, allows the user to add all four years of high school, create a transcript, and begin using the certificate/award repository option.” The premium version is $10.

“We believe that a $10 app that helps a student so much is a worthwhile investment for families,” they say. In future versions, Maya and Nina plan to offer free premium download tokens to families in need, offer group discounts, and will donate a portion of their profits to a non-profit organization.

When not working on Homie Schooler, Nina and Maya both take college-level courses at Cuyahoga Community College. Maya likes poetry, environmental advocacy, and creating all forms of art—from making bracelets to drawing and printmaking. Nina also is an environmental activist and enjoys writing and photography. Both girls play violin in the Music Settlement’s Cleveland Pops Youth Orchestra.

Both are active in to The Leonard Gelfand Stem Center Environmental Heroes, a collaboration between CWRU's Leonard Gelfand Stem Center Environmental Heroes and the Cleveland Metroparks. They have both earned Gold Presidential Awards for Volunteerism for the years the have participated.

Not only have Maya and Nina created a tool to help home schoolers like themselves, but they are also helping to lead the way for other young women and Mexican-Americans chasing the American dream. The sisters are first-generation Americans; their father, Victor, was born and raised in Mexico City and emigrated to the United States at the age of 14.

In light of that, the present immigration policy hits close to home for the Sernas: “Since the current administration headed by Mr. Trump took office, we feel that they have unfairly targeted Mexican people—in other words, us. Mexico to us is a prosperous and beautiful country, and people are genuinely nice and industrious, like our dad, abuelita, cousins, uncles, and aunts.”

Maya and Nina say the current policies also disturb them as both young women and Mexican-Americans: “Building a wall and separating kids from their parents is very sad to us because we cannot picture ourselves without our parents, let alone be in a camp by ourselves with strangers. This, along with the attacks on women’s rights that we have recently seen, makes us feel that we are in double jeopardy. Everyone is also aware that the field of technology is heavily headed by white males and centered around Silicon Valley or the East Coast.”

All things considered, Maya and Nina believe Homie Schooler is the best way they can show their talents and their American pride.

“We feel that being active in the community, working hard, staying focused, and surrounding ourselves with great people from all backgrounds who treat each other equally is the best way to actively show Mr. Trump how wrong he is about us,” they say. “It is also the best way to show all minorities, particularly girls, that focusing on your strengths [and] staying positive—all while being nice to each other, especially during trying times—is the best way to succeed.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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