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Three teams of students headed to 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado

PHILADELPHIA – Three groups of inspiring students from George Washington High School, Northeast High School and Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter High School claimed the top prizes during the Aspen Challenge competition in Philadelphia on March 29 at Ballroom at the Ben. Judges awarded the winning teams 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. 

Launched by the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation, and implemented in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, this is the citywide competition’s first year in Philadelphia. It began in February with an all-day 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. 

George Washington High School’s team PhitPhilly created weekly classes for elementary school students, teaching them how to choose healthy snacks and play active games for fun. They partnered with recreation centers to promote their ‘food, fitness, and fun” health initiative, ultimately resulting in their constituents losing weight and reporting a higher degree of happiness. They built a strong audience across media channels and offered tips for healthy living on their website 

Northeast High School’s team Meraki (Greek for “with passion and love”) started out as “fruit activists,” collecting unwanted fruit from their school and redistributing to those in need. They grew to partner with Teen Elect, an organization of teen mothers and fathers in their school, to teach them how to make food with limited ingredients (like smoothies) and veterans organizations in need of creative, nutritious food alternatives. They’re currently working with the School Reform Commission of Philadelphia to enact policy to reduce food waste district-wide. 

Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School’s team Sankofa Feeds worked to decrease food waste and eradicate hunger in their community of Kensington. They recovered food from local businesses and schools to feed over 100 people suffering from hunger, poverty, and drug addiction. They initiated the process to be a registered nonprofit organization with the goal of opening chapters across the city and enable their peers to earn service credits through their time commitment to the mission. 

“Aspen Challenge is truly an opportunity for our youth to encourage and inspire each other, and the adults around them, to solve critical issues facing the world. Whether teams have chosen to eliminate youth violence or encourage healthy living habits, this generation is wonderfully positioned to adapt as it encounters both progress and barriers,” noted Dr. William R. Hite, superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. 

“Service learning can really be such a great way for students to utilize their own talents and strengths in a really natural and organic way to come up with outstanding solutions to problems that sometimes even adults can’t solve,” said Diane Finesmith, a teacher from Kensington Health Sciences Academy. 

“The Aspen Challenge has changed my life and has shown me the importance of giving back to the community,” said Mark Sharashidze, a junior at George Washington High School. “I always aspired to help others in my community and with the help of the Aspen Institute and its challenge, my dream is on track to becoming true. The team and I plan on expanding our PhitPhilly program to a national scale, and to continue to teach and instill healthy habits into young children, the youth, adolescents, and anyone and everyone who could benefit from our program.” 

Judges presented additional awards to teams from The U School (Impact Award), John Bartram High School (Best Exhibit), and First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter High School (Team Spirit). In addition, the People’s Choice Award, selected by Aspen Challenge students, the Impact Award went to George Washington High School. A short video providing an overview of this year’s program in Philadelphia can be found at 

Currently in its fifth year, the Aspen Challenge has partnered with Los Angeles Unified School District, Denver Public Schools, DC Public Schools, DC Public Charter School Board, Chicago Public Schools, and now the School District of Philadelphia. The program aims to establish additional partnerships with public school districts in cities across the country in the years to come. 

Participating High Schools
-Abraham Lincoln High School
-One Bright Ray Community High School
-First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter High School
-Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice
-Frankford High School
-Paul Robeson High School for Human Services
-Freire Charter School
-People for People Charter School
-Gateway to College
-Philadelphia Academy Charter High School
-George Washington High School
-Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School
-Horace H. Furness High School
-Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School
-John Bartram High School
-The Philadelphia High School For Girls
-Kensington Health Sciences Academy
-The U School
-Northeast High School
-YESPhilly Accelerated High School

The Aspen Challenge, a program of The Aspen Institute presented in partnership with the Bezos Family Foundation , provides a platform, inspiration and tools for young people to design solutions to some of the most critical and complicated problems we face. For more information, please visit 


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