Many ignored their fitness during COVID. So this CT teen made an award-winning app to encourage healthy habits.

DARIEN — Eat more vegetables, or get more sleep, and an award-winning app created by a Darien High School student will take your progress and turn it into a garden full of flowers.

With her app Blossom, junior Victoria Caruso set out to find a way to monitor users’ progress on six different health and wellness goals: water intake, mood, sleep, food, exercise and a user’s choice goal.

“It allows the user to see visual proof that they’re building healthy habits without a scale or mirror,” Caruso said. “Blossom is just encouraging users to see that they’re making progress, which at the end is what’s really important to health.”

Caruso’s app recently won the Congressional App Challenge, which invites eligible students in participating congressional districts to program an original app. The winning app in each district, chosen by panelists, are displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol. Caruso won for the state’s 4th congressional district, represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.

Part of Caruso’s inspiration came from wanting to combine her love for coding with her love for healthy living and fitness, she said.

“Over quarantine, I was like ‘I want to start drinking more water, fix my sleep schedule,’ because it was awful,” Caruso said. “But I didn’t really care about appearances too much, because no one was seeing me. And I wanted to share that experience, when you’re trying to become a healthier version of yourself, and treat your body better without criticizing your body and your weight.”

The app gives users a daily flower that grows as the user inputs progress toward a daily goal. When they finish with the day, their flower appears in a garden and represents a full day of progress. The garden can hold up to 100 flowers, though users can continue to input their progress.

And because she believes how you feel is often more important than how you look, Caruso said she programmed the app to reward better moods more than meeting all food and exercise goals.

To code the app, Caruso used Apple’s programming language Swift and the IDE platform, or Integrated Development Environment. She began working on Blossom at the start of October and spent one month on it before turning it in for the competition, she said.

“One of the things about Victoria’s learning of computer science is that she’s very intentional,” said Lorraine Westervelt, Caruso’s computer science teacher. “Like she analyzes what it is that she’s just learned so that she knows it to the core. That deep dive on every single concept is just so exciting to see.”

All in all, Caruso said, she estimates she spent around 150 to 200 hours on programming the app, which currently has 1,976 lines of code. Amanda Smith, a sophomore at Darien High School, helped create some of the app’s original graphics.

Joan McGettigan, Director of Instructional Technology, said she is particularly proud of Caruso as a woman in STEM. Caruso was one of two female students in her computer science class last year of more than 20 students, she said.

“We have a shortage of people entering the STEM fields in this country, but we certainly have an even greater shortage of women,” McGettigan said. “Whether it’s biochemistry, computer science, robotics engineering, I want to develop that interest in girls in Darien as much as possible in any way possible.”

Caruso wants to major in computer science and eventually work in software development after college, she said.

She may even try to get Blossom into an app store.

“Computer science seems very intimidating when you don’t really know anything about it,” Caruso said. “But learning a little bit, you’ll realize it’s not as difficult as it seems. And everything’s very logical. If you just take a chance and stay open-minded, anyone can pretty much learn to code.”