Above, Toni Guinyard is photographed with students from Santee Education Complex.

Nearly 70 students from nine L.A. Unified high schools gathered Saturday 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, complex problems facing their communities.

The competition is organized by the District’s Beyond the Bell Branch. It was attended by Board Member Mónica Ratliff, whose district includes the Chavez complex.

“I am truly inspired by all for the knowledge and talent I see in this room right now,” Ratliff said. “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.”

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Students from Arleta Senior High School present their winning exhibit to judges during last year’s competition.

Five challenges were offered by experts in their respective fields. They included La Shona Jenkins and Norlon Davis from L.A. Unified’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 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 Lepedes and Joan Thomson 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.

The winner of last year’s inaugural Challenge Los Angeles was the team from Arleta Senior High School, which developed a plan to end human trafficking.