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LaFAYETTE – LaFayette High School junior Jalen Drummond and his teacher, Precious White-Jordan, spent six days in Aspen, Colorado, this summer as guests of the Bezos Family Foundation, creators of the Bezos Scholars Program. If the name sounds familiar, the foundation’s president is Jackie Bezos, mother of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

            Beginning in 2005, the Bezos Scholars Program launched a global initiative for leadership that promotes the spirit of inquiry and dialogue. Hosted annually through the Aspen Institute, only 17 high school juniors and a supportive educator are selected as Bezos Scholars from around the U.S. and from the African Leadership Academy.

            Participants are selected through an application process, containing their individual ideas for implementing a community-changing project through their local school. Of the thousands of applications submitted, Drummond and White-Jordan were chosen to attend, becoming the first Bezos Scholars from the state of Alabama. They recently shared their experience with members of the Chambers County Board of Education.

            During their week-long visit, the pair attended the Aspen Ideas Festival, the nation’s premier public gathering place for leaders from around the world and across many disciplines to present and discuss the ideas and issues that both shape lives and challenge innovation. At the conclusion of the festival, participants return to their communities and develop a community change project that combines their passion with meeting a defined community need.

            The proposal submitted by the Bezos Scholars from LaFayette is two-fold. The first is a program called “Bulldog Buddies,” a mentoring/tutoring initiative that will focus on academic preparation and coping skills, with an emphasis on decision-making. The initial target population will be ninth and tenth graders, chosen through an application process. The program will start with ten mentors and buddies meeting during their school’s advisory time each week.

            The mission of Bulldog Buddies is to enhance academic preparedness and coping skills through the development of one-on-one relationships, encouraging students to make positive choices in an effort to create a rewarding future. The ultimate goal is to establish a school culture in which all students are ensured compassion, acceptance, and empowerment to move boldly into a promising future, free from limits.

            The second aspect of the team’s proposal is called “We’re In This Together,” a podcast focusing on mental health affecting people within the school community, and sharing news in an effort to bridge the gap. The daily or weekly news-style podcasts would originate from the school’s front office and be displayed on monitors in each classroom. Students will also be able to download a free app, allowing them to access the information at will.

            The mission of WITT is to re-establish trust between students and community stakeholders by communicating useful and relevant information, with the goal of building a community that is inclusive, well informed, and knowledgeable concerning local issues.

            “We will receive a $1,000 grant to fund the launch of our projects,” said teacher Precious White-Jordan. “However, the grant will not be released until December, and therefore, our initiatives will not begin until January. Specifics of each proposal are subject to change during that time, and we welcome additional ideas for enhancing maximum success.”

            White-Jordan praised Jalen Drummond for his creative application, which he said was submitted at the urging of his mother.

            Once the programs are established, they will become eligible for annual funding of $1,000 over the next two years, as long as they continue to achieve their intended purpose.

            Shown in the photo above are, from left, LaFayette High School teacher Precious White-Jordan and student Jalen Drummond during their appearance before the Chambers County Board of Education.

By David Bell

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