High School Heroes: You're Never Too Young to Change the World

Don't be jarred. I don't wear a cape, and neither do the other students with whom I collaborate. But we believe that high school students can be heroes all the same.
12/10/2014 10:54 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

This post is by Eli Wachs.

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's...a high school junior?

Don't be jarred. I don't wear a cape, and neither do the other students with whom I collaborate. But we believe that high school students can be heroes all the same.

My inspiration came from a book called Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis. Abundance describes how so many of the world's great challenges can be overcome -- and are being overcome -- by a combination of innovation and widespread and growing access to technology. The book encouraged me to see problems in the world as market opportunities, and to value the optimism and innovation inherent to "Generation Z," or "Globals."

I reached out to Dr. Diamandis, who encouraged me, as a high school student, to look out my own window and identify local problems that need solving. When I started looking at it that way, I saw a lot that needed improvement.

I looked at the potholes created by a particularly rough winter, and thought about ways to melt the snow and ice without road salt. While researching this, I learned about solar-panelled roadways, and wondered how they could power our future. I met with my county's district attorney to discuss solutions she had identified to reduce crime, and the fundamental inequalities in society that often underlie it.

She talked to me about keeping children in at risk neighborhoods in school and out of the juvenile justice system, which made me question how students from economically advantaged schools could help children in families that were struggling. I started noticing plastic water bottles (often in my own hand) and plastic bags, everywhere, and wondered how to make my disposable community more sustainable.

I couldn't solve any of these problems, but I could identify them. So I began my quest for "heroes" who could help me fine-tune and take on challenges, solving them now, rather than continuing to hope that someone -- i.e. someone else, or someone older -- would solve them.

I created "High School HeroesX," which the goal of providing students a platform from which to effect meaningful change through crowd-sourced innovation. So far, I've recruited students from seven schools in the Philadelphia area, who are now actively engaged in identifying challenges that, when solved, would improve our community. Together, we researched innovative solutions that have been implemented elsewhere around the world to solve similar problems, and found problems for which no obvious or successful solution has been developed.

On Oct. 26th, the High School HeroesX participants gathered for a challenge development session at The Haverford School in suburban Philadelphia, professionally led by staff from the HeroX team, but powered by students from area schools. Wharton professor and renowned social entrepreneurship expert, Dr. James Thompson, served as the keynote speaker. After his speech, participants broke into small groups and deliberated on which issues they believe should be selected for the first High School HeroesX challenge. By the end of the day, High School HeroesX had its first challenge: working with economically disadvantaged schools in the Philadelphia area to increase high school graduation rates.

This issue persists for many reasons, but as high school students, we think and, perhaps with naive optimism believe, that our unique vantage point will better equip us to come up with innovative solutions to this problem.

We will continue to update our website, as the teams make progress on our challenge. Hopefully, we can make this world a better place, one student at a time!

Follow High School Heroes on Twitter here. @HSHeroesX