April 6, 2017, Chicago, IL — A team of inspiring high school students from Wendell Phillips Academy High School claimed the top prize during the Aspen Challenge competition in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry. Judges awarded the winning team an all-expenses-paid opportunity to attend and present at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival, an acclaimed gathering of global leaders, policymakers and entrepreneurs taking place in Colorado in June. Al Raby School for Community and Environment and Northside College Prep High School placed second and third, respectively.
Launched by the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation, and implemented in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, this is the citywide competition’s second year in Chicago. It began in February with a daylong forum where leaders, who are pioneering change to pressing world issues, presented the teams with unique challenges. Teams then had eight weeks to design a solution to a challenge topic of their choice.
Wendell Phillips Academy High School’s team T.A.C.T.I.C.S. (Teens And Copes Together in Chicago Successfully) created a series of workshops for police officers and high school students in order to build trust and foster a culture of understanding. They attended CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) BEAT meetings to build relationships with local officers and developed a curriculum for the workshops from what they learned. They’ll partner with the Bronzeville Community Action Council to bring the curriculum to other local schools, and they are working to improve legislation and discourse regarding the school to prison pipeline with the organization Illinois for Educational Equity.
Al Raby’s team My –Aw-Tis-ome Buddy created a peer buddy program for autistic students in their school in order to help with their development of communication and social skills. They trained general education students on what science says about autism and equipped them with tools to act as agents of change in empowering their peers to better support students on the autism spectrum. Through focus groups, student interviews, and a “walk for autism,” they deepened their impact and garnered support for programming to continue in their school with hopes to bring it to other schools.
Northside College Prep High School’s team F.L.A.I.R. (Financial Literacy Action for Immigrants and Refugees) designed a program to empower immigrants and refugees to understand the financial system and utilize it effectively. They hosted an international food and financial literacy fair for schools across their community, featuring presentations from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission and Bright Start (who initiate 529 savings plans for college). They also hosted a financial literacy festival at their school with translators for immigrants in their community and fundraised to set up an annual scholarship fund for a student from an immigrant family.
“The Aspen Challenge helped me realize you don't need to be an adult to make a difference in your community. All your team needs is a problem, motivation to fix it, and perseverance,” said Abigail Diaon, member of Lindblom Math and Science Academy’s SUPERFood team, who constructed portable healthy food banks throughout their neighborhood. This team’s co-coach, Gaby Morales, was a member of the team last year, exhibiting a new approach to the program. “Being a coach this year has helped me improve my leadership skills as I've never had to coach a team before,” she noted.
Additional awards were presented to teams from Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School (Impact Award), Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Best Exhibit), and Urban Prep Academies Bronzeville Campus (Team Spirit). In addition, the People’s Choice Award, selected by Aspen Challenge students, also went to Urban Prep Academies Bronzeville Campus.