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Student Stories , Educator Stories , Community & News

2019 Bezos Scholars Take Action With Community Change Projects

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 2019 Scholars have identified as the needs of their communities and how this year’s Scholars and our continuing Local Ideas Festival teams are working to promote positive change.

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Rolling with Books - October through May, every third Thursday of the month
Trey Chapman is passionate about giving people the same opportunities he was afforded growing up. Trey and his educator, Lowana Wade, are advancing literacy in the Northeast Guilford County of North Carolina, an economically challenged, underserved community. Rolling with Books is a service-learning program, promoting reading and literacy for Kindergarten through 5th grade students at an afterschool program located less than a mile from their school. Their team of high school students work to gather, distribute and read books to children while building relationships and sharing the joy and gift of reading. Volunteers help kids select a reading level appropriate book, work on reading comprehension and select a free take-home book after each session. To date, they have raised more than $630 dollars to purchase books and have gathered over 1,000 book donations.


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Noble High School Wellness Club: Weekly School Club throughout the academic year
Maddie Momenee and educator Jess Cutliffe have brought the topic of mental wellness to the forefront with their school community at Noble High School in Maine. Together, they founded the Noble High School Wellness Club to promote wellbeing as a core part of fostering a successful and healthy school environment. Through weekly school meetings, the club provides students sustainable healthy living habits, on-going conversations on mental wellness and positive ways to manage stress. They respond to issues brought up by students and expose them to healthy ways to define, process and manage their wellness in a supportive community. Along with weekly sessions, the group plans to host a culmination celebration and wellness event in mid-May for their larger student body.


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Kats Together monthly lunch sessions (February-May)
Brayden York and educator Leslie Lewis founded Kats Together, a monthly lunch club to promote inclusion and address disability awareness that breaks down barriers between students at Kokomo High School in Indiana. Kats Together builds community over a meal, while students with and without disabilities engage in fun, community-building activities and learn about important topics such as self-advocacy and inclusion. With the implementation of this club, Brayden and Leslie are working to foster a school environment that celebrates peers for their differences, encourages collaboration, and supports the beginnings of new friendships. In the future, the club aims to take part in group outings to foster unity and build relationships with the wider community.


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South African Ideas Festival, February 21-22
Mpiwa Gwindi, Mike Remezo, Nicolus Mositi, Thaksheel Alleck, Abby Abuga and educator Nkembo Kiala will host the 8th annual South African Ideas Festival (SAIF) this February at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. SAIF is an annual entrepreneurial development festival where youth convene to discuss and design innovative ways to spark change in their community. Their two-day event will engage 40 young African leaders on how to build on existing skills and incorporate self-taught leadership into entrepreneurial ventures. Vigorous and lively workshops will encourage attendees to nurture their bold ideas.


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Global Minds Pittsburgh Conference: March 11
Peyton Klein and educator Jenn McGonagle are focused on building welcoming and inclusive communities through Global Minds, a nonprofit founded by Peyton in 2016. Their goal is to make Pittsburgh a more accepting and understanding community by supporting immigrant students as they reach their greatest academic and social potential. They planned to spearhead two key events in March. The first is a conference that will bring Global Minds student leaders from seven area high schools to engage in community building, leadership training and educational activities. The second, includes over 200 youth from across Pittsburgh who will participate at the Youth@theBigTable event in partnership with Pittsburgh Leadership Inc., bringing community leaders to discuss various issues specific to their community with youth leaders over a shared meal. Due to COVID, their second event had to be cancelled.


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Colton High School Wellness Club - weekly sessions throughout the year and wellness fair on March 11
After identifying mental health and wellness as a strong need in their community, Ernest Mateo Cisneros and educator Jorge Alverez founded the Colton High School Wellness Club. Before becoming Scholars, they were already engaging the Colton Joint Unified School District to identify mental health and wellness as a priority for schools. By the time they were halfway into their year as Scholars, they were key in opening the first Wellness Center at their school. The center, developed in collaboration with the CJUSD Mental Health Department, provides a space for students to find peace, quiet and support, especially during stressful times. The club provides positive mental health and wellness awareness, access, resources and education throughout the year. Club members will also host the school’s first Wellness Fair, addressing a wide array of health topics and include expert speakers, workshops and a resource and health fair. There will be a student focused conference in the morning and afternoon, and an adult/community portion in the afternoon and evening. Wellness Club members and advisors hope to make the fair an annual district and possibly county-wide event.


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Northwest Louisiana Teen Summit: was originally planned for March 18, virtual summit May 1
Robert Lawrence and educator April Carberry are addressing the growing mental health needs in their community of Shreveport, Louisiana, while fostering their desire to engage young people civically. They identified there were not enough youth sharing their perspective and who had “a seat at the table” to act alongside adults to raise awareness on the importance of mental health and wellness. They worked with their school district and surveyed more than 5,000 high school students to learn more about their needs related to mental health and wellness. In partnership with Step Forward’s Teen Advisory Committee, the duo will use gathered data to bring small delegations of students and educators from various schools to the Northwest Louisiana Teen Summit to engage youth and community leaders. The summit will feature meaningful speakers and discussions on student mental health and policy change in today’s education system. There will also be opportunities for students and influential adults to breakout into small groups to share their unique ideas. The summit seeks to promote student-adult partnerships at various organizations in their region. Due to COVID-19, Robert and April had to cancel their in-person event and instead planned a virtual summit for May 1 as well as shared data and learning from their district wide mental health survey to influence their district on how to better support student mental health moving forward.


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Civics Delivered: Event was originally planned for April
Sarah Tran and educator Cindy Quintana are working to equip passionate youth with the civic skills and opportunities needed to inform and ideally change policies for the better. To select event topics, they surveyed their large school, Granada Hills Charter High School in California, on which topics youth felt were most pertinent today. Their one-day retreat, Civics Delivered, will bring together young people interested in mental health, climate change, homelessness, immigration and free speech. During the retreat, attendees will hear panel discussions, attend workshops and participate in breakout groups to foster connection and find inspiration with peers. Their overall goal is to foster interest in and knowledge about civic engagement and to connect youth with local opportunities so what is sparked at the retreat can carry on into the community. Due to COVID-19, the team is considering a virtual option for Civics Delivered.


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50th Earth Day Forum: Connecting with Louisiana Leaders was originally planned for April 22
Rangasri “Sri” Narayanamoorthy and educator Kady Clincy are passionate about the environment. Together, they are hosting the Earth Day Forum to bring together local leaders, their community, and young people to discuss climate change impacting their community in New Orleans, LA. Their festival is in partnership with Loyola University and will feature a series of panel discussions with local legislators so community members can learn, engage with, and influence them. Due to COVID-19, Sri and Kady shifted their event to facilitate and record three interviews with their local Representatives. The interviews were shared on Earth Day on their school's social media as well as shared with local TV media outlets.


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Uplift Ideate Festival: smaller advisory group and speaker sessions and one larger event – throughout May. 
Nicolette Peji and educator Dana Dale are opening the conversation around mental health and wellness with the student population at Ideate High School in San Diego. Their goal is for students to focus on their own self-care and identifying healthy ways to process and manage stress. With various, diverse events throughout the month of May, the duo plans to create an ongoing conversation around different aspects of mental health. Ideate is a newer charter high school and Nicolette is part of their first graduating class, so their goal is to imprint school culture as it is still forming and norming. Due to COVID-19, the duo are reassessing new mental health needs and are formulating a new plan to respond to those needs.


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Bulldog Blueprint Program - Had originally planned a kick off event on May 7 and ongoing sessions next school year
Jalan Drummond and educator Precious White-Jordan are creating small learning communities, which they are calling “houses” for incoming freshmen at LaFayette High School in LaFayette, AL. Their overall goal is to increase high school attendance and graduation rates in their small, rural town as well as to shift their school culture so it values academics as much as sports. The duo plans to position upperclassmen mentors and teachers as house advisors to each small group of incoming freshmen to build a strong sense of belonging and support academic growth and achievement and college and career readiness. Their kick-off event on May 7 will enthusiastically welcome incoming freshmen and establish them in the learning community they will enter in the 2020-2021 school year. At the event, there will food, music, tours and a gallery walk so that each school department, club and sports team can share information engage students early on. For sustainability of the program into the future, the team is currently creating a mentoring handbook for house advisors to use as a guide throughout the year. Due to COVID-19 Jalan and Precious had to postpone their kick off event and are focused on planning all the materials needed for the program to hit the ground running in the fall.


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The Art of Living Ideas Festival was originally planned for May 16
Victor Ye and educator Matthew Rojas aim to connect their community across differences through what they have in common. The duo will host a one-day festival in partnership with LA County Parks and Recreation’s Hacienda Heights Community Center that aims to start dialog and connection around healthy and happy lifestyles. Their event will feature speakers, activities, mindfulness practices and more to inspire their community to better learn how to decrease and manage stress while building community across divides. Their goal is to share effective and realistic ways for people to make small but important changes to how they are engaging with their own health and wellness and with others to help their community rediscover the “art of living.” Due to COVID-19, the event has been postponed to late summer/fall.


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Colligate Food AllianceYoung Hands, Green Thumbs: Various meetings and work parties throughout the year, end of the year community dinner
Zidikiyah Morrison and educator Cobren Greer found that roughly 25% of their New Orleans East community had only one serving of fresh fruit or vegetables daily. To bring fresh food education, access, and sustainability to their community the two worked with their school, Livingston Collegiate Academy, to create Young Hands, Green Thumbs. They engaged a group of students and partnered with the vocational program at their school to create an on-site school garden. They will build planter boxes and are working with a local youth farm, Grow Dat, to learn what and when to plant and how to care for it. To celebrate their community garden, they will host a community dinner featuring locally grown produce in dishes created by area culinary students. Their long-term goal is to build the Colligate Food Alliance, a board with three Collegiate schools in their district, to engage students and educators from each school to build and maintain sustainable community gardens. Zidikiyah and Cobren had originally intented on hosting a end of the year community dinner in April or May, and due to COVID-19 the duo had to cancel their culmination event.


Continuing Change Projects

Some Local Ideas Festival continue well beyond their first year. The Bezos Scholars Program supports schools and continuing Local Ideas Festivals for three years with direct funding. See how some community change projects have evolved as student leaders and educators continue to address community needs.

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IB More - after school support and tutoring sessions and online resources
Now in its third year, IB More is helping International Baccalaureate students at Baltimore City College (BCC) High School in Baltimore, Maryland, achieve more and have fun while they are doing it. Their goal is to increase the diversity of students taking and passing the Extended Essay (EE) by providing community and support through tutoring and accessible, relevant online resources. The EE is a research paper of up to 4,000 words and a mandatory core component of the IB Diploma Programme. The IB More team—led by student leaders Shundel Seunarine and Kathryn Shecter and educator Jennifer Berg Gaither—work with BCC Research Center tutors and students to organize a multicultural open society and to co-design tutorial videos that demonstrate strategies and techniques for student success.

IB More was founded by 2017 Scholar Andrew Altman and educator Jennifer Gaither.


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Senior Swarm: February 22 and had originally planned events for April 1, and May 1, 2020
Now in its second year, Senior Swarm helps prepare seniors and juniors at Gonzalez High School in California with post-secondary educational goals. They aim for students to build a solid understanding of the different types of post-secondary education opportunities and to gain knowledge in financial literacy and scholarships so they are financially prepared. Their overarching goal is to help relieve fellow students from stress and "swarm" around them to provide a safe space to ask questions, accomplish tasks related to the college application process, and receive the help they need and deserve. Senior Swarm is headed up by student leaders Isabel Mendoza, Amy Perez, and Madisyn Scheitzer and educator Candice McFarland Camacho and Michelle Slade with thieir partner, the Gonzalez Youth Council. Due to COVID-19 the April and May events were cancelled. The team has lunched a stronger social media presence to offer encouragement and virtual opportunities to Senior Swarm participants.

Senior Swarm was founded by 2018 Bezos Scholar Cindy Aguilar-Castaneda and educators Candice McFarland Camacho and Virginia Brown. Cindy, is currently working with the team to develop and launch an online platform that will continue to serve students beyond Gonzalez and in other rural communities. 


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Warrior Zone - Weekly club
Now in its second year, Warrior Zone is working to break down barriers between diverse groups at Central High School Memphis in the Memphis, TN, by empowering different people to work together for change. Their weekly club is led by student leader Sophie Pauti and Educator Mary McIntosh and features speakers, activities,and food, in addition to highlighting the importance of having conversations to dismantle stereotypes.

Warrior Zone, originally named Speak 901, was founded by 2017 Bezos Scholar Amal Altareb and educator Mary McIntosh.



NORCAL Science Festival on February 29
In celebration of its fifth year, the NorCal Science Festival team is gearing up to stimulate interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) for their Central Valley, California community. The NorCal Science & Technology Festival is a free,  one-day celebration of science featuring lectures, presentations, hands-on activities and special exhibitions for NorCal residents of all ages. New to this year, they will also be hosting a career exploration panel. 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.

NORCAL Science Festival was originally founded by 2015 Bezos Scholar Julie Fukunaga and educator Sandra Starr.


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SEA Festival was originally plannd for April 4
For its second year, SEA Festival will engage students in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM) at Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus in Harrisburg, PA. This year, the festival will feature a STEAM competition focused on climate change to build confidence in young people and to solidify the belief that they can and should help solve global problems. This effort is led by student leaders Jessica Ledesma, Cristina Ledesma and Aude Palenfo and educator Kevin Varano. Due to COVID-19, the team has postponed the event till next year and are focused on preparing next year’s leadership team to pick up where they left off in the fall.

SEA Festival, originally named Harrisburg Science Engineering Arts Fest, was founded by 2018 Bezos Scholar Hoang Le and educator Kevin Varano.


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Buford STEM Night: originally planned for March 19
Now in its second year, Buford STEM Night engages and excites Charlottesville, VA, middle school students about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Through their hands-on STEM night, student leaders Dani Szabo and Jude Fairchild and educator Brenden Martin aim to increase the diversity of middle school students accessing high-level STEM courses. Their long-term goal is for leaders in STEM fields to reflect the diversity of our communities. In their words, this is important because diversity in any field of study is necessary for learning, and to learn students need to feel a sense of belonging. The event includes hands-on workshops in partnership with local organizations and STEM leaders to create exciting and engaging tools, resources, events and systems so that minority middle and high school students are exposed to and engaged in STEM fields. Due to COVID-19, the team has postponed their event till next year and are focused on preparing next year’s leadership team to pick up where they left off in the fall.

Buford STEM Night was founded by 2018 Bezos Scholar Cole Fairchild and educator Matt Shields.



Noteworthy Music Festival: originally planned for March 21
Founded in 2011, the Noteworthy Music Festival is now in its ninth 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. Thanks to significant community support, the festival raised more than $14,000 its first year and was able to provide sixty instruments for the elementary students of Roanoke City. All proceeds from the festival are donated each year to a selected area elementary school in need. Due to COVID-19, the team had to cancel this year's Noteworthy event. While the musical performances will not take place, they are continuing to fundraise remotely and plan to host the festival again next year.

Noteworthy was founded by 2011 Bezos Scholar Locher Grove and educator Nicole Doherty.


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Pomeroy Community Scholarship: originally planned for March 28
Continuing for a second year, the Pomeroy Community Scholarship encourages and supports graduating seniors in Pomeroy, WA, to pursue higher education by facilitating and fundraising scholarships for students from their surrounding community. Led by student leaders Olivia Meyers, Anna Dinsmore, and Byron Stallcop and educator Lori Flynn, this local change project features a community-wide fundraising dinner where almost everything is donated by the community - food, venue, auction items, and more. At the event, participating seniors share more about themselves and their future aspirations while sharing a meal with their community. All proceeds from the event go into a pool where participating seniors are selected by a committee to receive $1,000 scholarships. Their ultimate goal is to strengthen a culture of academic achievement in their small, rural community while encouraging everyone to support students in accessing higher education opportunities. Due to COVID-19, the team had to cancel their dinner event. They are continuing to fundraise remotely and plan to grant scholarships and host the festival again next year.

The Community Scholarship Fund was founded by 2018 Bezos Scholar Alex Bremer and educator Lori Flynn.



Orange College Awareness Day (OCAD): originally planned for April 7
Now in its third year, OCAD: Orange College Awareness Day is continuing to help Orange High School Students in Orange, New Jersey, with all aspects of the college application process to close the information and accessibility gap. Throughout the year, the O-CAD team, led by student leaders Joseph Barbu and Julian Grande and educator Hooman Behzadpour, host monthly college prep workshops. Workshops range in topics such as personal statements, financial aid, creating a resume and forming college lists and culminate in a large end-of-the-year, one-day festival. By the end of participants’ participation in O-CAD, they will be ready to submit competitive applications to the college(s) of their choice. Due to COVID-19, the OCAD team has had to postpone their event.

OCAD was founded by 2017 Bezos Scholar Taiwo Odunowo and educator Hooman Behzadpour.



South Texas Ideas Festival (STXi) on April 25
For the fourth year in a row, the South Texas Ideas Festival (STXi) is connecting local community leaders with young adults in Edinburg, Texas. STXi is led by student leaders Josue Bello, Vanesa Marmolejos and educator Marcos Silva from Idea Quest College Preparatory. 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 youth by giving them the chance to explore overlooked aspects of the community while defying stereotypes that they may have internalized.

STXi was founded by 2016 Bezos Scholar Michael Mireles and educator Marcos Silva.



South Texas Higher Education Festival: originally planned for May 2 
Continuing for a second year, South Texas Higher Education Festival (STHEF) is engaging the whole family to learn more about the importance of higher education. Through their event, student leaders Ashley Galvan, Cesar Ruiz and educator Jose Becerra will provide resources and information to the Harlingen, TX, community to deter misconceptions about higher education while increasing access to it. Their goal is to ensure that students and their families feel confident and have the skills and resources they need to apply for post-secondary education. Due to COVID-19, the STHEF team are considering the creation of virtual options and are preparing team members to take on leadership roles to pick up where they left off in the fall. 

The South Texas Higher Education Festival was founded by 2018 Bezos Scholar Matthew Garcia and educator Jose Becerra.


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Baltimore Ideas Festival: originally planned for May 30
Now in its third year, Baltimore Ideas Festival engages Baltimore Polytechnic Institute students and their wider community in Baltimore, MD, in learning and dialoguing about a different social justice topic each year. The first year’s topic focused on the disparity in funding and resources between different schools in Baltimore. The second year focused on red-lining and the long-term impact it had on communities. This year, the focus is on food deserts and food justice. Along with learning and dialogue, this year’s student leaders Chielota Uma and Riyan Campbell and educator Regina O’Neal plan to add an action component. They plan to form a community garden in the neighborhood of Montebello, an identified food desert. Ultimately, the festival’s goal each year is to create unity among the community and break down the boundaries that separate and divide. Due to COVID-19, the team had to cancel their event and intend for new team members to pick up where they left off to host a festival next year.

The Baltimore Ideas Festival was founded by 2018 Bezos Scholar Isaac Spokes and educator Regina O’Neal.


Contributed by
Communications Specialist
Student Stories , Educator Stories , Community & News