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Teams of students from nine Los Angeles Unified School District high schools gathered Saturday, January 21st  at Cesar Chavez Learning Academies to kick off the second annual Challenge Los Angeles, a seven-week competition in which teams strive to devise creative solutions to significant, societal issues facing their communities.

 “I am truly inspired by all for the knowledge and talent I see in this room right now, “Board Member Monica Ratliff said during her opening remarks.  “While we hope you will find this to be an educational and rewarding experience, I want you to know that what you are doing really matters. What you create in the coming weeks will have the potential to change millions of lives.”

For the second year in a row, Toni Guinyard, general assignment reporter for KNBC-4, emceed the event.  “We called you here because we need your youthful insight and your fresh take on problems that have been plaguing us for years,” she said. “As adults, we haven’t figured it out yet, so we are looking to you to find the answers.”

Five challenges were offered by experts in their respective fields. They included La Shona Jenkins and Norlon Davis from Los Angeles Unified School District’s Foster Youth Achievement program, who challenged students to find ways to improve the academic achievement of students in foster care.  “Our classrooms are set up to promote academic achievement but not necessarily to tackle the social-emotional aspects of education,” Davis said. “These needs vary widely for students, and they can be tremendous for the many thousands of students in foster care.”

Dr. Lori Volandt Dr. Lori Vollandt, who leads the District’s Health Education Programs, challenged students to find new ways to promote healthy relationships. Stephanie Fabro, representing Junior Achievement of Southern California, issued a challenge to create strategies to graduate from college without crippling debt. Fran Lapides and Jean Thompson from the League of Women Voters challenged students to find ways to increase youth participation in democracy. And, Genevieve Riutort from the Westside Food Bank challenged students to help solve the seemingly paradoxical problem of childhood obesity and childhood hunger.

This year’s competitors are from Cesar Chavez Learning Academies, Harbor Teacher Preparatory Academy, Santee Education Complex, Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet and Grant, Reseda, San Fernando, Sun Valley and Van Nuys Senior High schools.  Each team of students will select a challenge to address and work together over the next seven weeks. They will showcase their solutions on March 11 at Reseda Senior High School. A panel of judges will determine the winning team, which will have opportunities to participate in leadership events around Southern California.

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