In DC, Each Education Challenge Represents an Opportunity to Innovate

The Aspen Challenge -- launched by the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation -- provides a platform, inspiration, and tools for young people to design solutions to some of the world's most critical problems by engaging with leading global visionaries, artists, and entrepreneurs. District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) will send teams from several schools to compete with each other to present their solutions at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Here, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson discusses how the Challenge prepares students to be leaders and problem-solvers.

Everywhere I go, in every part of the country, I share stories about the amazing young people in the District of Columbia Public Schools. The students we serve come from every ward and every neighborhood. Their circumstances and background reflect our diverse city, but also a city that still has its challenges to overcome. We have made tremendous strides as a city, and especially as a school district, but challenges remain, and we are working to address them. As chancellor, I have never backed down from a challenge in this job -- in fact, I take them head on.

Challenges are a great place to find opportunity, and our students know this better than anyone. Whether it is the young men and women at Cardozo Education Campus, who designed their own app to address attendance concerns, or the students at Eaton Elementary School, who lobbied our City Council to officially name a state rock after they realized the District did not have one, these students are determined and focused. It is a grit and perseverance I am confident will be on full display over the coming weeks as our students embark on the DC Aspen Challenge.

Thanks to the vision and commitment of our partners at the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation, our students will be among the earliest school districts in the country to participate in this important competition. It is their time to shine and to show the nation what I see in them every single day as chancellor. Where adults can be jaded, defeated, or bogged down, our young people are problem-solvers, quick thinkers, and bold. I'm incredibly excited to see them tackle issues that affect all of us today, whether that's STEM or peace-building, poverty or international understanding.

With the eyes of the nation squarely on us during these next seven weeks, our students will hone in on solutions to the greatest challenges facing our country. They will work to eliminate barriers and increase opportunities. It won't be the first time DCPS students will receive acclaim from across the country. When the Nation's Report Card came out, it showed DC students made the greatest achievement gains of any other urban school district. The warm glow of the spotlight is exciting for our students, I am confident they will be amazing! And, I am eager to see the avenues they pursue. I have reminded them that best solutions come through collaboration, conversation, and community. It is a lesson we have all learned as a district -- and nowhere is this more true or clear than in our schools and the classrooms of our great educators, where our students spend the majority of their days.

Just as the Aspen Challenge spells out seven of the nation's most pressing needs, we too in the district are aware of the areas where targeted resources can make a huge difference. In fact, this month, we announced a $20 million initiative to help improve outcomes for male students of color, where a large achievement gap still persists. Yes, this is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. With the right thinking, and the right effort, and a community working together, solutions are clear.

We have set the tone in the district over the past several years with a motto of "we are DCPS and we can do this." Over the coming weeks, our students will take the Aspen Challenge head on, and I am going to be squarely in their corner cheering them on.