Two Virginia high schoolers keep competitions alive virtually during the pandemic

Two local high school students were frustrated by the lack of opportunities for students to compete in their specialties during the pandemic.

So, they decided to do something about it.

Rashmi Francis and her partner Rohan Bhansali both saw debate and science competitions canceled because of the pandemic. But the two seniors at the Academies of Loudoun, in Leesburg, Virginia, landed on creating their own international competition, called the Aria Challenge.

“Millions of students across the world were all at home with very few creative outlets to demonstrate their skills and creativity,” Francis said.

The categories are focused around art, entrepreneurship and technology. The pair hit the ground running, getting sponsors near and far ranging from Kravitz Orthodontics to Google, so it’s free to everyone.

“It’s also a big learning experience for us as well,” Francis said.

Bhansali said it hasn’t been easy for two 17-year-olds to launch something this big.

“We just had to keep persisting; especially at the beginning, it didn’t really come so easily,” Bhansali said. “We were having a little bit of trouble getting off of the ground, but we just stuck with it and now we’re here.”

The Aria Challenge is for all children and teens from kindergarten through 12th grade. The competition judges include students from Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Caltech and Columbia.

“We thought of just creating our own kind of challenge to help maintain students’ engagement,” Bhansali said.

They are giving away $3,000 in prize money. They are also making the entire event educational by hosting a series of conferences with speakers such as CEOs, professors from Harvard, Brown and Juilliard.

This year’s themes are cultural heritage, energy and environment, health and accessibility and humanitarian action.

Their goal is to get to 1,000 submissions, and they want to bring it back as a yearly event.

Registration ends Oct. 24. Find information on how to submit an entry on their website.

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