Become a leader for positive change with the Bezos Scholars Program.
Throughout their year as Bezos Scholars, our student and educator teams have been working to create community change projects, known as Local Ideas Festivals, in their communities. See what the 2018 Scholars have identified as the needs of their communities and how they and our continuing Local Ideas Festival teams are working to promote positive change.
Scholar Cindy Aguilar-Castaneda and educator Candice Camacho focused their community change project on the importance of post-secondary education. The duo created Senior Swarm to foster relationships between graduating seniors and community members to encourage students to pursue and know how to apply to post-secondary education. They hosted quarterly resource get-togethers for high school seniors in Gonzalez, CA.
Scholar Mayowa Jolayemi and educator Christina Moreau are focusing on access and readiness in Advanced Placement (AP) high school curriculum by working to increase the number of African-American students in AP classes through their community change project Track Program. Their monthly student gatherings work to equip students in Cerritos, CA with the necessary skills to be successful in AP classes, inform students how AP classes can prepare them for post-secondary education and professional life.
Scholars Jonathan Banza, Jelissa Kamguem, Rutendo Njawaya, Salome Maina, Samkelo Ntetha, and educator Tsion Tesfaye are hosting the 7th annual South African Ideas Festival: Empowering African Youth through Entrepreneurship at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. Their 3 day event will equip young African leaders with entrepreneurial skills to create innovative solutions that address problems in healthcare systems and increase infrastructure development, while increasing employment opportunities.
Scholar Mishka Banuri and educator Crystal King created Utah Youth for Environmental Justice to equip young people to learn and act on environmental issues that disproportionately impact marginalized communities in Utah’s Asthma Corridor. Throughout the year, the team will host youth gatherings that engage community leaders.
Scholar Alex Bremer and educator Lori Flynn created the Community Scholarship to encourage and support graduating seniors in Pomeroy, WA pursuing higher education by facilitating (and fundraising) a community scholarship. Their community change project will feature a fundraising gala dinner and provide scholarships for high school seniors, working to strengthen a culture of academic achievement in their small, rural community.
Scholar Hoang Le and educator Kevin Verano are passionate about science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). Their event, Harrisburg Science Engineering Arts Fest, will engage incoming freshman in Harrisburg, PA in STEAM projects and demonstrations created by upperclassmen. Their event includes a youth STEAM design challenge to build excitement and community around STEAM education and career pathways.
Scholar Amy Exposito and educator Scott Reed are passionate about art as a medium for expressing the complicated issues of mental health. Their community change project Creatively Speaking is a Chicago, IL community event that will promote different forms of art as a means of processing and communicating issues and emotions related to current events.
Scholar Matthew Garcia and educator Jose Becerra are engaging the whole family to learn more about the importance of higher education through their community change project, South Texas Higher Education Festival. Through their event, the duo will provide resources and information to the Harlingen, TX community to deter misconceptions about higher education. Their goal is to ensure that students and their families will feel confident and have the skills and resources to apply for post-secondary education.
Scholar Christian Alexander and educator Victoria Kratz created the Great Neighbors project to help the elderly in their community of Hawthorne, CA form caring, lasting connections and relationships to reduce community isolation. Their project promotes events and resources for senior citizens in partnership with senior centers in their community.
Scholar Cole Fairchild and educator Matt Shields are passionate about science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM). They created Buford STEM Night to engage and excite Charlottesville, VA middle school students about STEM. Through the hands-on STEM night they want to encourage increasing the diversity of STEM students in courses at the high school level.
Scholar Stylé Ranger and educator Jake Winfield are promoting social and emotional wellness at ASU Prepatory Academy-South Phoenix with their community change project of an after-school health and fitness club. Their program will focus on fitness, yoga, and healthy eating to address mental health issues, specifically student depression.
Scholar Brandon Plowman and educator Aaron Atkinson took on the issue of substance abuse and addition for their community change project. Their event NorCal ASAP: Northern California Addiction and Substance Abuse Project will provide resources, skills, and support to Cottonwood, CA community members impacted by loved ones experiencing substance abuse.
Scholar Makayla Dawkins and educator Rachele Thomas are addressing mental, physical and emotional health with their community change project Healthy Communities = Thriving Schools. Their health summit will promote holistic health and wellness to the students and staff of James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, CT and is focusing specifically on those impacted by trauma.
Continuing Local Ideas Festivals
Some Local Ideas Festival continue well beyond their first year. The Bezos Family Foundation supports schools and continuing Local Ideas Festivals for three years with direct funding. See how some community change projects have evolved as they continue to address community needs.
Now in its 3rd year, Branch Out is creating space for cross-cultural conversations and community building. Their community change project includes a full day retreat and five one-hour after school sessions of 20 freshmen and 20 sophomores who represent the ethnic/racial/socioeconomic/religious diversity of Alonzo Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami, FL. Throughout the year, the Branch Out team, led by student leader Kalindi Gosine and educator Molly Diallo, are empowering participants to be social change agents and promote inclusivity, respect, and kindness amongst the student body.
Florida League of Young Immigrants (FLYi) Foundation: Inclusion for All Immigrants
Continuing for a 3rd year, FLYi Foundation: Inclusion for All Immigrants Foundation is connecting newly arrived immigrants in Miami, FL to available resources in order to facilitate their transition and capability for success in their new home. Student leaders Cesare Allocco, Jazmin Baez, Jein Garcia, Ashley Kail, and Carina Landgraf and educator Alrene Martinez work with the FLYi Foundation team to bring together Miami community and organizational leaders dedicated to helping recent immigrants transition into the Miami community through a coordinated network of existing educational support resources, including college readiness, degree revalidation, tutoring, legal assistance, career assistance, healthcare advice, and more. The team serves Spanish, Creole, and Haitian speaking immigrants.
We Fight Fear
Now in its 2nd year, We Fight Fear: 2nd Annual Immigration Conference will engage the Dallas, TX community in a one-day immigration conference. We Fight Fear is led by student leader Mirka Estrada and educator Ann Marano who are working with their team educate Dallas residents about immigration policies and share how storytelling is an important aspect of immigration advocacy. This year, their event will also shine a light on Dallas’s ever-growing refugee and immigrant’s community in response to the refugee crisis that occurred this past summer on the Texas-Mexico border and the already large and diverse refugee and immigrant communities in Dallas.
O-CAD: Orange College Awareness Day
Now in its 2nd year, O-CAD: Orange College Awareness Day is continuing to help Orange High School Students in Orange, NJ with all aspects of the college application process to close the information and accessibility gap within the Orange High School community. Throughout the year, the O-CAD team, led by student leaders Leodson Hean Baptiste and Caroline Prophetee and educator Hooman Bahzadpour have hosted monthly college prep workshops for high school students. The workshops culminate in two-day festival where participants submit competitive applications to the colleges of their choice.
New Buffalo Ideas Fair
The New Buffalo Ideas Fair is now in its 2nd year! This community change project, led by student leaders Alex Schmock and Jacob Smith and educator Richard Eberly is shedding light on the amazing non-profit organization and resources in New Buffalo, MI. Their event will build community by bridging the gap between the school and community by including New Buffalo and Chicago residents.
Elkhart Discovery Days: EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER
Continuing for a 3rd year, Elkhart Discovery Days is instilling a passion for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) in 3rd-5th grade students in Elkhart, TX. Led by student leaders Cassie Barnett and Tucker Sparkman along with educator Dona Coppedge, the Elkhart Discovery Days team is hosting a hands-on festival with demonstrations and science experiments featuring physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, and theater arts to encourage future scientists to think and explore.
Noteworthy Music Festival
Founded in 2011, the Noteworthy Music Festival is now in its eighth year! The music festival continues to provide support and funding for music education and instruments for elementary school music programs in Roanoke, VA. Noteworthy Music Fest celebrates the community’s love of music, featuring local artists who perform in support of music education.
One Book-One Poly
Now in its 2nd year, One Book-One Poly: Breaking the Boundaries is engaging Baltimore Polytechnic Institute students in a discussion on the disparity in both funding and resources between different schools within Baltimore, MD to create unity among the community and break the boundaries that separate and divide. This year’s event, led by student leader Katrina Marinelli and educator Regina O’Neal will expand upon the discussion of disparity in both funding and resources for education, with a focus on structural racism. The One Book-One Poly team choose the book Not in My Neighborhood, by Antero Pietila which is about redlining, and gave it to all students, teachers, and administrators at their school. Their event will include a school and community-wide book discussion, with author Antero Pietila as the keynote speaker, and local community groups involved in social justice work will present.
South Texas Ideas Festival (STXi)
For the third year in a row, the South Texas Ideas Festival is connecting local community leaders with young adults in Edinburg, Texas. STXi is led by student leaders Humberto Guerra and Abigail Piando and educator Marcos Silva and the team works to raises awareness of the increasingly critical role that young people play in the Rio Grande Valley and strengthen cultural identities of young people by giving them the change to explore overlooked aspects of the community.
Another 3rd year community change project is Ideas Festival in East Hartford, CT that is inspiring innovation and empathy. Student leader Sriram Ganesh and educators Fran Ferrall and Dana Kinel work with the Ideas Festival team to engage students in grades 5-12 at O’Connell Elementary School, Sunset Ridge Middle School, and the Connecticut IB Academy in innovative ways to address United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These ideas are then shared with peers and community stakeholders to inspire empathy and action both locally and globally. This year the Ideas Festival was embedded into the International Baccalaureate Design Programming curriculum at three schools in the East Hartford Public Schools District which will ensure that students will participate in this community change project through 12th grade.
Now in its 2nd year, IB More is helping International Baccalaureate students at Baltimore City College High School in Baltimore, MD gain a better understanding of success through online peer learning tutorials. The IB More team led by student leader Kennedy Simms and educator Jennifer Gaither works with BCC Research Center Tutors and Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society to co-design tutorial videos that demonstrate strategies and techniques for student success.