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At competition, Denver teens pitch solutions to social challenges

Students at the Aspen Challenge in Denver.
Students at the Aspen Challenge in Denver.

More than 150 high schoolers from 21 schools gathered today in downtown Denver to present their solutions to challenges ranging from food deserts to racism to mental health as part of the Aspen Challenge, a competition that spotlights youth-driven solutions to social problems.

At the McNichols Civic Center Building, students from Strive Prep Excel passed out chocolate chip cookies made with garbanzo beans while a group from the Denver Center for International Studies recruited pen pals for a project focused on improving international diplomacy through communication. Across the hall, students from DSST: Green Valley Ranch asked passersby to examine about racial stereotypes.

Students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College’s Team Well Aware demonstrate an activity they used in a curriculum for children.
Students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College’s Team Well Aware demonstrate an activity they used in a curriculum for children.

A team of high schoolers from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College intermittently dropped to the ground to do sets of push-ups and sit-ups to demonstrate a wellness program. A giant orange die told them how many of each to do.

The projects started in January, when each school’s team wrote a practice grant application to the Aspen Challenge’s founders, the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation. Each team had a $500 grant to develop a sustainable solution to a social challenge.

This year, George Washington High School’s C.O.L.O.R. team walked away with first prize for a project focused on combatting racism through literature, music, arts, and conversations. That means they will be presenting their project at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer. Last year, three Denver teams presented their projects at the festival.

Denver Center for International Studies’ team won second prize for its Planting Diplomacy project, and North High School won third for Nourish, a project focused on addressing food deserts.

Students from PUSH Academy’s Raising Our Own Fathers team proposed a mental health awareness day.
Students from PUSH Academy’s Raising Our Own Fathers team proposed a mental health awareness day.

South High School’s team won the impact award for a project focused on addressing racial inequality and challenging stereotypes, while West High School’s team won best exhibit. The Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College group that spent most of the afternoon doing push-ups won an award for team spirit.

Bruce Randolph High School and Push Academy won the People’s Choice Award.

But many of the schools’ projects have already had concrete results. The team from North High School, for instance, has signed up more than 75 families for a fresh food delivery program.

The Aspen Challenge started in Los Angeles three years ago, expanded to Denver next year, started in Washington D.C., and will continue to add cities.Denver Public Schools spotlighted some of the projects on its Facebook page.

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