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Communications Specialist
Student Stories

2017 Scholars Take Action through Local Ideas Festivals

Throughout their year as Bezos Scholars, our student/educator teams have been working to create Local Ideas Festivals in their communities. See what the 2017 Scholars have identified as the needs of their communities and how they’re working to promote positive change.

1.jpgScholar Eric Tran and educator Chellyn Boquiren

Scholar Eric Tran and educator Chellyn Boquiren created Triton Alliance as a support network for younger students and to cultivate a sense of community within their school. Throughout the year, The Preuss School duo in San Diego paired high school students with middle school  students to serve as tutors and mentors, providing  assistance with schoolwork and a safe outlet to discuss challenges in their lives.

2.jpgScholar Sammie Casas and educator Ann Marano

This Irma L. Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School team is using their Local Ideas Festival to promote maintaining Dallas’s sanctuary city status by educating and creating an advocacy platform for young immigrants of all documentation statuses. The one-day We Fight Fear Immigration Conference will host opportunities for youth to attend informational seminars on topics such as applying for college, the future of DACA, and SB4 (a bill that would outlaw sanctuary cities and require that the local police to work with immigration and customs enforcement) means for Texas. We Fight Fear will also empower youth representation in the community.

3.jpgScholar Caitlyn Hess and educator Becky Ugander

Thoughts for a Rainy Day is the Local Ideas Festival founded by Scholar Caitlyn Hess and educator Becky Ugander which will focus on mental health. Their event will open up the conversation about mental health, feature multiple workshops on different subtopics, including suicide awareness, LGBTQ support and allies, and many more. Caitlyn and Becky hope to help people feel more comfortable in asking for help and to understand that maintaining one’s mental health is just as important as one’s physical health. Along with open dialog, the event will connect people with local resources and support in the Wheat Ridge, CO community.

  • Thoughts for a Rainy Day
  • March 10, 2018
  • Facebook
4.jpgScholars Felix, Chernor, Winnie Diana and educator Kim Hoffman

This African Leadership Academy team is using their Local Ideas Festival to support entrepreneurial development, leverage networks and opportunities, and develop personal skills. Throughout their festival, the South African Ideas Festival: Building Entrepreneurs Inside and Out, participants with big ideas will work to develop them using methods from the BUILD model. Festival participants will also hear from guest speakers and join in small group sessions to take part in mentorship opportunities and expand their networks.

  • SAIF:  Building Entrepreneurs Inside and Out
  • March 16-18, 2018
  • Website
  • Facebook
5.jpgScholar Kate Atschinow and educator Donnie Martino

Scholar Kate Atschinow and educator Donnie Martino are working to increase their community’s awareness, knowledge, and understanding about refugees in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Their Local Ideas Festival will be a celebratory gathering of community and will combine local speakers with small group dialogue between refugees and the broader community. The hope is to promote awareness and understanding of refugee issues through hearing about refugee initiatives, specifics on the topic, and meeting with refugees.

  • Neighbor’s Nest
  • March 26, 2018
  • Facebook
6.jpgScholar Taiwo Odunowo and educator Hooman Behzadpour

Scholar Taiwo Odunowo and educator Hooman Behzadpour are using their Local Ideas Festival to host a college awareness and preparedness at Orange High School in New Jersey. Taiwo felt the Orange High School community was largely unaware of many of the opportunities available to college-bound students. In response, they are hosting a two-day event for sophomores and juniors to be about the college application process and existing opportunities  and support to help prepare and encourage students to aim for higher education.  

7.jpgScholar Amal Altareb and educator Mary McIntosh

Scholar Amal Altareb and educator Mary McIntosh’s Local Ideas Festival Speak 901 will focus on breaking down barriers between diverse groups in the Memphis community and empowering different people to work together for change. Their festival will feature speakers, activities, and food, in addition to highlighting the importance of conversations with each other to dismantle stereotypes.

8.jpgScholar Mulki Hagi and educator Danielle Wong

Scholar Mulki Hagi and educator Danielle Wong’s Local Ideas Festival Multicultural Youth Summit will feature Deering High School students giving TED-style talks about the LGBTQ community, black lives matter, food insecurity, addiction, immigration, systematic racism, and domestic abuse. Through their day-long, school-wide festival they want to promote equality and an open dialog within their community in Maine.

  • Multicultural Youth Summit
  • April 9, 2018
9.jpgScholar Kaitlyn Rodriguez and educator Sue Brakel

This Scholar/educator duo from California Academy of Mathematics (CAMS) and Science felt that their school promotes a highly competitive atmosphere that puts enormous pressure on students. To this end, they want to use their Local Ideas Festival to show students the benefits of embracing failures. Their week-long school-wide festival will culminate on April 20 in a collaboration with the CAMS Youth TEDx Club. The final day will feature TED- style student talks focusing on mental health, as well as  a panel of professionals who will talk candidly with students about their own experiences with failure and how they’ve learned from it.

  • A Look In the Mirror
  • April 16-19, 2018 
11.jpgScholar Ibraheem Khan and educator Greg Di Francesco

ARISE is the Local Ideas Festival hosted by Scholar Ibraheem Khan and educator Greg Di Francesco. This Northside College Prep team from Chicago will raise awareness about Islam’s values and combat Islamophobia through a verbal-arts themed event. Their event will feature spoken word artists, rappers, and comedians in addition to a moderated panel discussion with Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders who will talk about how aspects of each of their faiths are distorted when amplified to the global audience.

  • ARISE: Awareness for Religious discrimination and Islamophobia through Speaking and Educating
  • May 4, 2018
  • Northside College Prep
  • Facebook
12.jpgScholar Felix De Simone and educator Richard Eberly

Scholar Felix De Simone and educator Richard Eberly are hosting the first annual New Buffalo Ideas Fair. Their fair was inspired by a need to connect residents in a community that is economically based on tourism. Their day-long fair will be open to the general public and feature student-led community outreach ideas, local nonprofit representatives, and promote school clubs and opportunities for engagement, and share ways for the community to get involved. Through their Local Ideas Festival, this New Buffalo High School duo envisions a community that is much more aware of the opportunities available in the community.  

  • New Buffalo Ideas Fair
  • May 10, 2018
  • Facebook
10.jpgScholar Isaac Spokes and educator Regina O'Neal

Through their Local Ideas Festival, Scholar Isaac Spokes and educator Regina O’Neal are working to host a constructive and open dialog about the disparity of funding and resources among schools in Baltimore City. They feel that this issue is seldom talked about and needs to be addressed. During their two-day festival, this Baltimore City High School team will provide parents and students a chance to hear from community members and educational leaders, attend presentations, join Q&A sessions, and discuss solutions in education funding.

13.jpgScholar Andrew Altman and educator Jen Gaither

This student and educator Scholar pair from Baltimore City College High School are working with Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society (SOMOS), a student led minority organization that tackles systemic issues of injustice through activism and raising awareness to provide support and create a resource website for English language learners (ELL) looking to enroll in the international baccalaureate (IB) program. In conjugation with Baltimore City Schools Media Team and SOMOS, IBMore is creating recognition videos for graduating seniors completing the IB diploma requirements, as well as a Spanish-language video tutorial on completing the IB extended essay. Additionally, IBMore received funding to host a two-week Extended Essay camp this summer for more intensive 1:1 coaching with students and teachers. They believe that peer-lead offering of skills and tips to complete the Extended Essay requirement will greatly enhance the overall ELL student experience at City College High School and hopefully generate greater interest from the Spanish-speaking community to enroll in the IB program. Educator Jen Gaither has also presented to University of Maryland Baltimore County’s professors to generate broader interest in researchers connected to the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising Oral History Project.

  • IBMore
  • June 7, 2018


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 Local Ideas Festivals have evolved as they continue to address community needs.


In celebrating it’s third year, the NorCal Science and Technology Festival team is again welcoming the Central Valley community in hopes of stimulating involvement in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). Their day-long Local Ideas Festival celebrated the fun in science by hosting area scientists to engage the community in hands-on STEAM activities. The festival’s mission is to spike the community’s interest in STEAM and encourage future generations to pursue careers in the fields of science and technology.


Now in its second year, FLYi Fest will bring together several Miami community leaders dedicated to helping recent immigrants transition into Miami through a coordinated network of existing educational and support resources. The festival is especially focused on supporting newly-arrived immigrants In addition to the the day-long festival, FLYi Fest features a mentoring program between high school students from every campus of the School for Advanced Studies and mentees from middle schools in the surrounding areas of each campus.


In the third year of City Scribes, a Patrick Henry High School Local Ideas Festival, middle school students are participating in a biweekly after-school writing enrichment program. Throughout the school year high school students work to with middle schoolers to enhance their journalistic and creative writing skills. The program will culminate in a final meeting where students will hear from local authors, journalists, and media personalities to help students see how the skills they learned in City Scribes could apply to future careers.

  • City Scribes
  • Yearlong and March 7-8, 2018
  • Facebook

Elkhart Discovery Days is a second-year Local Ideas Festival that will continue to develop an interest for science in the youngest students in Elkhart, Texas. Their festival will feature hands on demonstrations and elaborate experiments for students 6th through 8th grade in hopes that it will have all attendees thinking like  scientists! 

  • Elkhart Discovery Days
  • March 7, 2018

Now in it's third year, Fork in the Road continues to eliminate academic and cultural barriers in the Lincoln, NE community. This student-led group's mission is to celebrate Lincoln High School’s diversity and the stories of its students from around the world. This year, they will also host renowned author, high school alumni, and Northwestern University professor Wendy Pearlman, who will speak about her latest book, which tells the stories of Syrian refugees.


Continuing for a second year, the Local Ideas Festival Branch Out! will bring together 20 freshmen and 20 sophomores who represent the ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, and religious diversity of Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School to promote cross-cultural conversations and community-building. The program culminates in an off-campus retreat after hosting multiple after-school sessions. Branch Out! students seek to empower participants to be social change agents in their community by promoting inclusiveness, respect, and kindness among members of the Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School student body. 

20180322_201750.jpgMomentum College and Career Festival

For the third year in a row the Momentum College and Career Festival will bring New Caney High School students access to different post-high school opportunities. The Festival is a space for students to ask questions, learn about next steps after high school, make connections with potential mentors, and celebrate that the world of opportunity after high school is not limited to four year-universities. This year’s festival is led by high school senior Yovanka Gonzalez and will include vocational and technical options along with booths from local pharmacists, cancer researchers, and a paleontologist.

  • Momentum College and Career Festival
  • March 22, 2018

The Local Ideas Festival DL Thriving will continue to bring mental health awareness to the Detroit Lakes community for a second year. This year the festival will focus on improving mental health through physical exercise, healthy eating, and natural remedies. A forum of mental health professionals will be the focal point of the event. Booths and interactive activities hosted by representatives of community organizations that support with physical/mental health and positive outcomes for youth.

WEEDing Out The Facts.jpg

Now in it’s third year, Spark Up the Conversation, a Local Ideas Festival originally named WEEDing Out the Facts started by 2015 Scholar Gillian Breuer and educator Kelby Benedict, will continue to educate young people about the negative impacts of substance abuse through open conversations and workshops.

  • Spark Up the Conversation
  • April 15, 2018
  • Facebook

Conversations In Dialogue (CID) is a continuation of the Local Ideas Festival Beyond the Bars, originally started by 2015 Scholar Shivpriya Sridhar and educator Kevin Shuford. Now in it's third year, this student-run organization works to cultivate an appreciation for honest and empathetic dialogue among diverse voices. Annual events serve to prompt deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that shape the lives and challenge the times of the Raleigh, North Carolina community.


The South Texas Ideas Festival (STXi) is continuing for the second year. Their student-led event serves as a platform for local community leaders to connect with young adults. This year STXi is raising awareness about the increasingly critical role that the youth play in the Rio Grande Valley region. Now more than ever, it is the responsibility of students to take the lead in their communities and act to ensure a prosperous future for themselves and their peers.


Founded in 2011, the Noteworthy Music Festival is now in its seventh year! It continues to provide support and funding for music education and instruments for elementary school music program in Roanoke, VA. Started by 2011 Scholar Locher Grove and educator Nicole Doherty, Noteworthy Music Fest celebrates the community’s love of music, featuring local artists who perform in support of music education.

  • Noteworthy Music Festival
  • April 28, 2018
  • Facebook

Now its second year, the hAPPy Schools Expo Local Ideas Festival will connect students at Sunset Ridge Middle School (SRMS) and Connecticut IB Academy (CIBA) to share their innovative ideas with peers and community stakeholders. High school students will mentor and work with middle schoolers to create apps that inspire empathy and action on both a local and global level. The 2nd Annual hAPPy Schools Expo event will respond to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as students identify and design meaningful solutions to present at the Expo.

  • hAPPy Schools Expo
  • May 17, 2018

Harlem Shaking, a second-year Local Ideas Festival, will continue to address New York’s affordable housing issues. This year, the Democracy Prep Charter High School team will curate photos and films to illuminate gentrification and its effects in the Harlem community. Rising housing costs, coupled with a real shift in attitudes, policies, values, and general cultural cadence prove Harlem is evolving at a rapid pace and displacing those who have always called this neighborhood home. Their curated art event, at Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School will capture the faces and stories of a shifting community to promote a meaningful exchange and prompt change from the policy level to the streets.

Contributed by
Communications Specialist
Student Stories

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