The Aspen Challenge: How Palmetto’s “Agents of Change” Are Changing Minds and Habits


Photo courtesy of Agents of Change.

Angelina Astic, Copy Editor

On May 11, 2021 Miami Palmetto Senior High School held a ceremony honoring “Agents of Change,” the winners of the 2021 Aspen Challenge. Agents of Change, a group of freshmen, sophomore and junior environmental activists at Palmetto, joined together with a mission to increase youth climate literacy and activism amongst South Florida students. 

Led by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, District Nine School Board Representative Luisa Santos, district staff and Palmetto administration, the ceremony highlighted the project led by students Lacey Buchwald, Analysse Humaran, Alyssa Hunt, Gianna Hutton, Imani Mitchell, Abdul Rafay Khan, Isabel Duran and Alexa Fein for the Aspen Challenge. Each student received an Apple Macbook Pro, Apple AirPods Max, software for their devices and a check for $2,500. 

AP Biology teacher Dr. Sara Edelman and AP Environmental Science teacher Pamela Schlachtman have coached the group of eight students in preparation for the Aspen Challenge. Serving as their coaches, the duo have provided support, resources and important educational materials to the team.

Created through a partnership between the Aspen Institute and Bezos Family Foundation, the Aspen Challenge partners each year with a school district in an urban area and provides invitations to twenty schools from that district. Designed to uplift and empower young changemakers, the Aspen Challenge provides funds, tools, resources and a platform which allow students to target a problem in their community and build a solution to address it. 

“[The Aspen Challenge] goes to a different city every year and they give the teams and the students money and they give them ideas and it is kind of a springboard for people to affect real change in their communities,” Buchwald said. “That was something that just something that intrigued me most about it and how supportive they were of us and how they gave us like constant constructive criticism. So, when we came up for the Agents of Change and what we were going to do, they were always really supportive at every step of the way.” 

Following a signature seven-step approach, the Aspen Challenge seeks to create student leaders who, through the identification of a problem and creation of a solution, raise awareness and engage with their peers and communities with the implementation and presentation of their project. 

This story is sponsored by J.A. Martin Consulting, LLC

Palmetto’s Agents of Change sought to create a solution surrounding the issue of climate change, but more so youth climate literacy at large. Wanting to address habits and misconceptions present in the community, the students focused on promoting lifestyle and educational content which encourage followers to lead an informed and sustainable lifestyle. 

“With Agents of Change what we wanted to do was create a culture,” Humaran said. “We wanted to change people’s habits because that in the long term is going to be the most effective thing that you could do in terms of climate change.”

Curated by the Agents of Change members, their Instagram (@letsspeakgreen) and website (, connects students and local community members to various resources and educational infographics, highlighting an assortment of studies, important current events and ways for students to get involved in the climate activism movement.

Understanding the importance of teamwork, the Agents of Change delegated and gave each individual student a task they felt would play to their strengths. Hunt and Mitchell run the social media pages, Duran and Fein manage the cookbook and corresponding photography, Hutton and Fein manage the outreach portion of the project, Khan has the role of treasurer and budgeter, Hutton and Humaran lead the composting project and Humaran and Buchwald run the podcast. 

“We kind of had the [pandemic] as a challenge, but with that we were able to like delegate tasks based on where we were,” Mitchell said. “Part of our project was composting so obviously people who were in were able to set up the composting station, versus people who are online, like Gianna, who were able to make composting guides and kits and that kind of thing.” 

In order to promote a culture of sustainability through plant-based eating, Agents of Change created a digital cookbook with vegetarian recipes for a variety of palates entitled “In Season: Vegetarian Recipes for Every Occasion.” Initially inspired by a cookbook created for the Fairchild Challenge by Humaran, the Agents of Change wanted to provide a resource that students both at home and in-school could benefit from. 

“The cookbook was because Isabella has this blog and she cooks and photographs the most beautiful foods… we were like with that kind of skill what we could make is this cookbook,” Humaran said. “We thought, not only is a cookbook something we would be really good at doing, but that would also help anybody virtual which also gave us the idea that anything we do in our project needs to be accessible to both in-person and virtual people.”

Palmetto’s administration has long been known to have cultivated an environment where students are provided the tools in order to solve solutions and raise awareness around important issues. “Meatless Mondays” came about as part of the project led by the Agents of Change in order. In order to bring this initiative into the schoolhouse, Agents of Change met with administration and cafeteria staff to institute a campaign at Palmetto. Through this initiative, students now have access to plant-based options for lunch in the cafeteria on Mondays. 

“Mrs. Dobbs’ door is always open to ideas that students might have to see how it is that we can facilitate that here at school,” Palmetto’s Assistant Principal Daniel Barreras said. “The school is a community and we all need to try and get involved with any ideas, projects, or things that the students want to do.”

“Let’s Speak Green,” the Agents of Change podcast, has three published episodes, highlighting current events and climate leaders. From how Buchwald and Humaran became involved in the climate change movement to informing students on environmental issues in South Florida to having a conversation with Lisa Merkle, the owner of a vertical and hydroponic gardening company named Boxed Greens, the duo have published a variety of climate-related content. 

“We had this idea to make a youtube channel with videos like educating people about climate change… Analysse was like, ‘instead of a Youtube channel, why don’t we do a podcast because podcasts are very popular,” Buchwald said. “I was really excited to write scripts for the podcast because I like to write things and I like to talk about these issues because it was something that was really out of my comfort zone.”

Through the help of a grant from the Children’s Trust, Agents of Change have begun a composting project. Designed to educate and encourage others to explore the practice of composting, Agents of Change have created composting guides for those who may be interested in implementing the practice at home. For those who do not want to compost at home, they have also published a list of drop-off sites, allowing locals to incorporate composting in one way or another in their lives.  

Through teamwork, empowerment and perseverance, the Agents of Change teammates have discovered just how much they can accomplish together, regardless of their young ages.

“Oftentimes, you get the occasional like ‘oh you are young, like you don’t know what you are doing with yourself.’ But, there’s also the people who are like, ‘this is kind of impressive that you are so young and you’re doing this kind of thing,’” Humaran said. “So no matter how people kind of approach you in terms of being a youth and having a voice and that kind of issues, always believe that you do have a voice.”