Challenge 5280 takes action to make our school a better place.
The Challenge 5280 (5280) club at Thomas Jefferson High School works on projects focused around social justice issues within the TJ community. As a group, 5280 works to find solutions to inequality issues, that result in both immediate and long-term policy changes in the school. Their mission is to turn TJ into a more welcoming space for every student, and there is an interview process for students who want to join.
English teacher Jennifer Stephenson and current members, senior Sophia Ward, juniors Malia McDorman, Logan Cecil, and Joe McComb, and sophomores Mariah Hurd-Crews, Erin Maloof, Bianca Escobar, and Gwendolyn Plue have worked hard this year on their project for the 5280 competition. For next year’s recruits, Stephenson, Ward, McDorman, and McComb will conduct the interviews, which will be held during the week of May 14th.
Students should join 5280 if they are interested in making a positive impact at TJ and learning new skills to help them later in life. “ gives me a platform to make visible change in my school community. It also offers pathways to collaborate with other DPS high schools as well as community partners to create sustainable change in the realm of social justice,” McDorman said. 5280 is always looking for new members to help bring awareness to a different issues at TJ or in our community. Any students interested in joining 5280 should contact Ms. Stephenson in room 221.
Spartans receive elective credits for joining the club and meet during their lunch period on Tuesdays. 5280 is a social justice club and class for which students can earn credit, as well as learn how to organize campaigns, and how to do research while tackling a social justice issue. The club also participates with other high schools in the district in the Challenge 5280 competition, where they present their project on a particular issue to the DPS Board of Education. This year’s goal was to bring awareness to the fact that white students are improving at higher rates than students of color, which is a problem around the nation.
5280 is all about creating change in the TJ community, solving issues of inequity, and standing up for civil rights. If students are interested in activism and social justice, 5280 is a great way to be part of meaningful and rewarding work. “This is a place where students can really make a difference, so if you are passionate about social justice and making change in the world, this is a really a good place to come and do this. It’s also a really great way to learn activism and organization skills,” explained Stephenson.
Students work together to identify an issue, its source, and possible solutions. In order to come up with a plan, students generally collect data, which can be in the form of interviews, surveys, and other media. The task of the group, according to Stephenson, is to “…figure out what exactly is the cause of all this and how we can try to fix that.” Members must be invested in the work because the results are important for the students at our school, and in our community. Stephenson said, “If you are somebody that works well with others and is willing to commit to that, then this is a great spot for you and it is a really great opportunity.” 5280 gives students an opportunity for advocacy, collaboration, empowerment, creating a just environment at schools, and so much more. Ward described, “I wanted to join 5280 because I am an activist. I am constantly fighting for equality in all areas. 5280 gives me the resources to make even more progress in creating a just world.”
Three students from each school’s team represent their school at board meetings once a month as the Student Board of Education Representatives. This year, TJ’s group won first place at the competition against other DPS High Schools. Their project was to increase inclusion and support for minority students in the classroom, particularly in Honors and Advanced Placement classes. The group worked to create policies that would provide a change for the better in our school with the Teaching Tolerance and the Ethnic Studies policies. The Teaching Tolerance organization is a group of educators committed to diversity and equity in classrooms. The policy is intended for teachers to teach a minimum of one lesson from the curriculum provided each semester so students can learn about other cultures and ethnicities. The Ethnic Studies policy allows students to earn elective credit for taking an ethnic studies class. The curriculum will be based off of existing courses within DPS, such as Hispanic and Latino studies as well as Raza studies. 5280 worked closely with TJ admin and the Hispanic and Latino Club to create and structure the course, using resources from the Xicanx Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO) Institute to bring equal, culturally competent education to TJ. The Spartan 5280 team will be going to Detroit, Michigan free of charge as first place winners to attend the Allied Media Conference, to experience many different forms of media and art that empower change.
One of the most important qualities Stephenson looks for in new club members is passion. “Is this something they are doing because they are interested in the activism, or are they just interested in getting the credits? Then leadership qualities after that, so can they work well with other students, can they listen as well as take charge when it’s necessary, can they self-advocate and go find people?” A combination of all these qualities and persistence makes the ideal 5280 club member.