In January, students from 20 Dallas Independent School District high schools filed into the city’s Union Station to begin their journey with Aspen Challenge. There, the students were challenged by successful national leaders to solve issues in their own neighborhoods: 100 Resilient Cities’ Smita Rawoot and Eric Wilson challenged students to come up with new transportation solutions, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell asked them to reimagine urban spaces, the Global Nomads Group’s Chris Plutte asked them to work on issues of global citizenship, and The Dream’s Gaby Pacheco challenged them to solve immigration issues. Pacheco urged students to “design a program that fosters empathy and creates support for immigrants, regardless of documentation status,” adding that since the nation’s political leaders have proved unable to resolve the issue, young people—with fresh ideas, motivation, and energy—will have to move the needle. “When I hear people like Gaby,” Valeria Hernandez, a Dallas high-school student and a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as “DACA,” said, “I think: ‘I cannot keep quiet. Sooner or later, my voice will be heard.’”
In February, Aspen Challenge went to Philadelphia for the second year in a row, hitting eight new schools and meeting 152 new students. ACHIEVEability’s Jamila Harris-Morrison challenged the Philadelphia high-schoolers to disrupt cycles of poverty, the Anti-Defamation League’s Randi Boyette challenged them to create online spaces that combat bullying, and Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Jane Golden challenged them to use art to promote restorative justice. Golden told students, “I know you’re inheriting this tumultuous world, but I have faith you can make it better.”
Eight weeks later, in March and April, students from Dallas and Philadelphia reconvened to present their solutions to the challenges—with trips to the Aspen Ideas Festival on the line. In Dallas, Emmett J. Conrad High School, Moisés E. Molina High School, and Sunset High School took the top spots in the Aspen Challenge, and John Bartam High School earned the distinction in Philadelphia. “Thanks to the experience of participating in the Aspen Challenge and the dedication of their teachers and coaches, our students are uniquely positioned to lead fundamental change around issues like climate change, the school-to-prison pipeline, and poverty,” Dr. William R. Hite, the superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, said.