The Aspen Challenge, a Bezos Funded High School Program, Comes to New Orleans | Economic news


High school students are ready to take on – and solve – some of New Orleans’ biggest challenges, thanks to the Bezos Family-funded Aspen Challenge, a program that empowers young people to address issues in their community they deem to be the best. more important.

Each year, the program, a joint initiative of the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation, gives high school students in a different city the opportunity to identify problems and gives them the funding to implement solutions. This year, 20 New Orleans high schools were selected.

What problems will they face? It depends entirely on the students.

“It’s going to be a lot by the youth of New Orleans for the youth of New Orleans and you’re going to see 20 mini-revolutions started by the youth of the city,” said Katie Fitzgerald, director of the Aspen Challenge. during a launch event at Commander’s Palace this week. “The most important message we send is, ‘You matter.'”

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Over the next few weeks, the contest organizers will be holding focus groups made up of representatives from area high schools to determine which issues students feel are most important, said Brett Howley, senior director of the Aspen Challenge program. Young people across the country are often voicing concerns about mental health, the environment, bullying and financial well-being, Howley said.

The Aspen Challenge will bring together five experts on topics raised by students, Howley said. The program will be officially launched in February, when the experts will issue challenges relating to the topics to the 20 teams, she said.

Each team chooses a challenge. They are given eight weeks, $ 500 and extensive mentoring to find and implement a solution. In April, the teams will present their projects to a panel of community judges and three of the teams will be selected to present their work at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. The program has previously partnered with schools in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC

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Projects vary: In Louisville, a team released a series of diversity, equity and inclusion picture books for preschool and elementary school students, now available in Louisville public schools. In Miami, a school created a financial literacy program. A Denver group created a bike path that connected their community to a park.

New Schools for New Orleans has partnered with Aspen Challenge to deliver the program to New Orleans over the next two years.

At a rally at Commander’s Palace last week hosted by Cathy and Walter Isaacson and featuring a conversation with Mike Bezos – the father of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – political, school and community leaders were asked to consider participating in as mentors and judges.

Mike Bezos, background, listens to Walter Isaacson speak at a reception at Commander’s Palace to announce the Aspen Challenge, in which teams from New Orleans high schools will identify and attempt to resolve issues facing their communities. The program is sponsored by the Bezos Family Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

Bezos, who spoke fondly of New Orleans and its “sense of community, of unity,” said the program is for students who “don’t get 4.0, don’t have all the opportunities but those that are under the radar. “

“We hope that at the end of these two years the community will pick it up and keep it going,” Bezos said.

Ashley Daniels-Hall, CEO of Einstein Charter Schools, said she hopes the challenge will lead to long-term commitments to create opportunities for students to have a sense of “ownership and agency to create a best place for the next generation ”.

Participating schools include: Abramson Sci Academy, Benjamin Franklin High School on Katherine Johnson Campus, Booker T. Washington High School, Edna Karr High School, Eleanor McMain Secondary School, Frederick A. Douglass High School, GW Carver High School, John F Kennedy High School, LB Landry High School, Livingston Collegiate, Lycée français de la Nouvelle-Orléans, McDonogh 35 Senior High School, New Harmony High School, New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School (Sci High), Rooted School, Rosenwald Collegiate , Sarah T. Reed High School, Sophie B. Wright High School, The NET Charter High School: Central City and Walter L. Cohen College Prep.

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Marie Fazio writes for the Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate as a member of the Report For America corps. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @mariecfazio.

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