Today's Youth Are Our Future World Leaders

03/07/2015 08:54 am ET | Updated May 07, 2015

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, DC Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson explains how the Challenge prepares students to be leaders and problem-solvers.

In the history of the world, change often starts with the young. Young people look at the world with fresh eyes. They see the world as it is and ask "why?" and imagine a different world and ask "why not?" George Bernard Shaw and Robert Kennedy asked these questions long ago, but young people today are asking them again.

For the past six weeks, Washington, DC, public high school students have worked together to tackle some of the world's most pressing issues: eliminating child poverty, solving global warming, curbing excessive police violence, and more. Some of these students attend DC public charter schools while others attend a DC traditional school. All are taking the Aspen Challenge.

Because of the Aspen Challenge, students are working together to design solutions to pressing problems. Teams from six Washington, DC, public charter schools are hard at work on their solutions and are competing against high school teams across the city for the top prize -- a trip to the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Students at three of the public charter schools -- SEED, Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, and E.L. Haynes -- are focused on poverty. At SEED, the students are planning an on-campus healthy food market to both educate the community and make better options accessible to the low-income areas of Washington south of the Anacostia River. This is a part of the city where fresh fruits and vegetables are often hard to come by. Students at Thurgood Marshall and E.L. Haynes are similarly looking at addressing poverty in their communities.

At two of the schools -- Capital City PCS and Washington Latin PCS -- the competing teams are most interested in connecting with their peers in other parts of the world. They want to learn about history and cultural challenges that shape the lives of other young people.

At Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy PCS, the students want to "unleash peace to counter the culture of violence present" in their community. They are seeking to "identify common hurt and disconnection" and address it with "creativity, humor, and courage."

These are all impressive and big challenges. I am cheering them on as they create a state-of-the-art solution to a real-world problem.

For public charter schools, programs like the Aspen Challenge reinforce our educational philosophy: to ensure that students and families in Washington, DC, have access to a quality public education. This is so important considering that the District was once home to one of the most troubling public school system in the nation.

By competing in the Aspen Challenge, students connect their education to the broader world. They learn that the world's problems can be tackled, and that they are part of the solution.

So many children in our nation's capital are burdened with poverty. We are finally building an education system that offers more students a path to a prosperous and enlightened life. With the Aspen Challenge, we add to that path a leadership experience that inspires our students to better our world.