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Sparkathon: A Global Call to Action Ignites Student Innovation

It takes a global network to solve global problems — and that’s what Dwight tapped into for our first-ever Sparkathon, a 48-hour design competition for students across all of our campuses.

We partnered with the Ocean Conservancy, a global nonprofit dedicated to protecting the ocean and its wildlife, and challenged students — whose ingenuity knows no bounds — to apply their creativity and collaboration skills to help tackle the plastic pollution crisis worldwide. We posed the question: Are you ready to change the world? The resounding answer was “yes!”

Sparkathon drew over 100 students on 31 teams from every School in our global network, together with Franklin School in Jersey City, NJ, which joined our family of Schools last fall.

This exciting cross-campus event, which spanned continents and time zones over the weekend of May 20-21, immersed students in an experience unlike any other. After forming their own teams (the competition was open to students in grades 6-12), they were charged with developing innovative ways to clean up and remove plastic pollution from our oceans and to educate the public about the causes of, and urgently needed solutions for, this crisis. 

How Sparkathon Worked
Sparkathon immersed students in an experience unlike any other. After they had registered for the competition in teams of four-six students, students selected a challenge to solve from among the following three:

Challenge #1 | Capturing Trash
How might we more efficiently collect litter and floating trash (big and small) from stormwater runoff, rivers, lakes, and/or coastal waters? Can it be done without relying on large volunteer efforts? 

Challenge #2 | Changing Behaviors
How might we build awareness of the plastic pollution crisis? What tools, campaigns, and technology can help support education that results in our communities using fewer plastic items, especially unnecessary single-use items that we can do without?

Challenge #3 | Smarter Cleanups
Since volunteering to clean up trash that has escaped into the environment is an important piece of the larger solution set, how might we improve the efficiency of traditional volunteer cleanups where trash is collected by hand?

Read more about each Sparkathon challenge

Teams were allowed to start investigating and brainstorming over the five days leading up to the weekend and when the competition — which took place in real time beginning first on our campuses in Shanghai and Seoul — was underway, sparks of innovation were flying!

Throughout the weekend, a team of Sparkathon faculty mentors from each School and Ocean Conservancy experts were on hand in person and virtually to answer questions, and provide advice and feedback. In addition to tapping into their research, problem-solving, design, and innovation skills, students were called upon to use their teamwork, project management, and pitching skills. All utilized a cloud-based tool that Dwight created with developers in Ukraine called the Spark Incubator Platform (SIP) to document and share their work, which included creating a prototype of their solution. SIP also enabled students to video chat across campuses to exchange ideas. They continued working diligently until the submission deadline of 4:30 pm on Sunday, when teams uploaded their final pitch presentations and videos.

“All I want is for our students to know that their ideas matter to us,” shares Lesa Wang, Director of Global Spark Programs and Head of Design for The Dwight Schools. “To see teenagers around the world spending their weekend time at School, collaborating, and hyper-focused on finding solutions to a pressing global problem … isn’t this what the spirit of the Sparkathon is all about? This event was the result of months of work by an incredible team of visionary educators from Dwight and Franklin Schools, who joined forces also as collaborators, and I am so appreciative of their time and commitment. I am also grateful to The Dwight School Foundation for its support, which allowed us to realize this dream for our students,” says Ms. Wang.

Oded Shorer, Dwight’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, adds, “I was amazed by the turnout and in just 48 hours witnessed Dwight cultivating a talented, conscientious, and responsible community of young minds who believe they can make an impact by inventing and applying their sparks of genius toward a better future. I also witnessed the dedication of colleagues, who had come together to create the infrastructure necessary for a successful event.”

The Winning Teams
The breadth and depth of the work students produced were striking and our panel of judges had some difficult decisions to make. We applaud all of our Sparkathoners and extend congratulations to the following teams:

Overall Sparkathon Winner: Harry Collins ’26 and Emre Gots ’26, SuperCoolTeamName, Franklin School! 

Challenge Leaders:

  • Challenge #1: Daniel Russo ’24, Shaurya Singh ’24, Rafa Grilo ’26, and Ruhie Mehendale ’26, Team Plastic Pirates, Franklin School
  • Challenge #2: Selina Ju ’25, Eloise Peny ’25, and Aileen Qi ’25, Team Pleurotus, Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School
  • Challenge #3: Zander Bradley ’26, Ofer Rubin ’26, Jackson Shell ’26, and Henry Ullman ’26, Team Eco Warriors, Dwight School New York 

Honorable Mentions:

  • #1: Hugo Winfield ’29, Shimada Keeney ’29, and Encheng Zhang ’29, Team The Ocean Cleanup Guys, Dwight School Dubai
  • #2: Daniel (Daeyeon) Han ’26, Andrew (Che) Lee ’26, and Jay Lee ’26, Team Aquaman, Dwight School Seoul
  • #3: Vrinda Sharma ’25, Anastasia Voica ’25, and Herbie Wares ’25, Team HWT, Dwight School London
  • #4: Samik Krishnan ’24, Ariba Syed ’24, Maria Palma Bejarano ’26, and Chahrazed Yehia ’27, Team PAC-Tech, Dwight Global Online School

What’s Next?
While each School proudly celebrated their own winners, the students on the winning Franklin team will also be rewarded with a whale-watching boat trip. Additionally, they will make a special visit to Tufts in Massachusetts, where Dwight has a connection with the University’s Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. The Franklin team will present their idea to mechanical engineering students and explore the possibility of realizing their winning invention with the expertise and mentorship of Tufts students. 

The Sparkathon excitement has quickly spread; we’ve already seen one team here in New York present their project to our Spark Tank Committee. They look forward to taking their work to the next level and we hope that others will follow. 

With Thanks
We want to thank all of our dedicated Sparkathon mentors worldwide; the SIP developers, who supported us remotely from Ukraine; and our judges: Truett Sparkman and Sarah Weller from the Ocean Conservancy; Peter Arnell, founder of Intellectual Capital Investments; Dale Dougherty, President of Make Community LLC; and Atziri Ibanez, Chief of Staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Education.

We are especially grateful to our esteemed partner, the Ocean Conservancy; The Dwight School Foundation — and most of all to our amazing students, who devoted their personal time, boundless creativity, and unfettered energy to help solve one of today’s most pressing issues. We are fortunate, indeed, to have a global community to spark innovation for a better world.

At this time, Sparkathon 2.0 is already in the works and we look forward to sharing what’s in store when we resume school in the fall. Until then, congratulations again to all!