Aspen Challenge students work to improve their community

Elsy Barcelo


In solitude, in the corner of the principal’s conference room, freshman Conor Olive works on the “Wheels for Youth” website for the Aspen Challenge this school year.

“Aerielle and I are working together on the design but I mostly work on the website. I’ve done a few web apps for fun so I have some experience,” Olive said.

The website is used for donations and information on their chosen challenge, Wheels for Youth. A total of eight people with the help of counselor Martina Torres and leadership of student body president Michella Mousaed work on the project as a team.

Wheels for Youth is one of 20 projects that some Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are working on. Each project that a school works on all ties into the bigger picture, the Aspen Challenge. Launched by Aspen Institute and inspired by the Bezos Family Foundation, those who participate are required to invest their time, imagination and enthusiasm into their projects.

Counselor Martina Torres speaks with students participating in the Aspen Challenge about how they will organize and implement their project. Photo by Angelo Marmol.

“We want people to know how to be safer when getting to school. Whether they ride a bike, skateboard or just walk to school, it’s important to be safe,” Mousaed said.

Each person is in charge of a different sub-project that all tie into the Wheels for Youth. Junior Sean Williams is in charge of social media, junior Aerielle Gundayao is in charge of design/statistics and freshman Conor Olive and senior Orlando Muñoz help Gundayao in both categories. Mousaed is in charge of promotion while her brother sophomore Joseph Mousaed is in charge of fundraising along with senior Yvonne Gonzalez who helps setting up with meetings.

Although there is no official schedule for Aspen Challenge meetings, they have been extremely organized since the start. Those who take part in the challenge were approached by either Principal Deb Smith, Torres or Mousaed and asked if they’d like to be a part of the challenge.

“I was approached by Michella and she asked me if I wanted to join her because she thought I was well organized and really creative. I accepted soon after because I saw it as a fun opportunity,” Gundayao said.

Although the challengers plan to go to other schools and present their transportation safety speeches, they are still in competition with other schools and that worries Mousaed.

“I’m a little worried since we’re such a small school so we don’t get the privilege of having as many students attend fund-raisers,” Mousaed said.

Despite the small group, their “coach” Torres has high hopes.

“My biggest hope is that they get their challenge complete and that they’re able to present it meaningfully,” Torres said.