Coming up with big ideas 

Northside student and teacher John Belcaster named Bezos Scholars.

July 20, 2009

Caroline will spend some of her summer the same way many other high school students do: working, seeing friends, reading books. But she'll also spend part of it meeting Supreme Court judges, artists and world-renowned scholars as a Bezos Scholar at the Aspen Institute.


Caroline, who will be a senior at Northside College Prep, was one of 12 public school students selected from a nationwide applicant pool of more than 150. As Bezos Scholars, she and her teacher, John Belcaster, who teaches AP microeconomics, AP Macroeconomics, Sustainable Engineering and Economic Development at Northside, received all-expenses-paid scholarships to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival from June 30 to July 6 in Aspen, Colo.


The Aspen Ideas Festival brought together some of the biggest names in politics, business art and other fields for seminars, panel discussions and informal meetings. Among this year's featured speakers and panelists were U.S. Secretary of Education and former CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, architect Frank Gehry, playwright Anna Deavere Smith and Hernando de Soto, president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, a think tank based in Lima, Peru.


At the end of the festival, the Bezos Foundation asked the 12 scholars to come up with ideas for their own local Ideas Festivals, to be held at their schools. The top plans will receive $1,000 grants.


Caroline, who said she was inspired to pursue social issues in large part because of her father, a journalist, found out about the program from another one of her teachers at Northside. She got the application literally days before the deadline, but said, "It sounded like too good an opportunity to pass up."


In her application, Caroline had to write three essays, one of which asked her to describe an event where she personally had worked to effect social change. She wrote about being an election judge for the 2008 elections and how President Barack Obama had restored her faith in government.


"As I handed out ballots, I talked to those waiting in line," she wrote. "Many were first time voters; others were voting for the first time in years. A mother hugged her 18-year-old son as they both voted for the first time. I spoke Spanish to an elderly couple who had never voted before, but finally cared enough to cast their votes for Obama."


Belcaster, who wrote one of the required recommendations for the application, was excited about the program as well. A civil rights lawyer for years before changing professions, he said: "To have an opportunity to have a small seat at the table with the likes of a Caroline is what this profession is all about. To see someone like Caroline as they move through our world and become themselves is an opportunity beyond measure."


Learn more about Northside College Prep. 



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