This article was originally published on APU.edu.
Azusa Pacific University alumnus Jorge Alvarez ’03, M.A.Ed. ’08, M.A. ’12, was recently named a Bezos Scholar. Alvarez, an assistant principal at Colton High School (CHS) in Colton, Calif., was honored alongside CHS junior Ernest Cisneros for their work with the school’s TED Ed. club, including arranging the school’s first TEDx Conference on the topic of mental health earlier this year. As part of the Bezos scholar program, the pair will travel to Colorado later this month to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival, where they will learn more about how they can create change in their community.
“I was in disbelief when I found out,” Alvarez said. “They only pick 12 students and 12 educators from around the nation. We’re not from a big school or a big city, so I didn’t really think we had a chance. I think it will start to feel real when we get to Aspen.”
In Aspen, the two will hear from some of the world’s top creative minds, comprised of a diverse group of educators, innovators, and leaders. “I’m excited to see what ideas we can bring back to our community,” Alvarez said.
As part of the Bezos Scholars Program, Alvarez and Cisneros will create a Local Ideas Festival in the form of a wellness fair to be held next March. The fair will feature regional agencies that provide medical and mental health resources, parent and student workshops, entertainment, and food. CHS plans to host students from across the county as well as local government officials.
As the faculty advisor to the TED Ed. club, Alvarez organized the school’s first TEDx conference earlier this year featuring nine speakers. A strong advocate for mental health, Alvarez was selected as 1 of 33 TED Ed Innovative Educators from around the world in 2017. “Students are affected by mental health issues at a growing rate, yet communities in our area lack resources. Several students in the region committed suicide in the past year,” he said. “A stigma still exists around getting help for mental health issues and we want to combat that. It’s okay to get help.”
Alvarez said he wants students to have the space to decompress and the resources to support their mental well-being. To meet this need, CHS plans to open a wellness center in August. “This facility will give our students a place to deal with anxiety, depression, or other challenges they may face, and in turn, this will give them the best chance to succeed in the classroom.”
The Bezos Scholars Program was founded in 2005 by Jackie and Mike Bezos, parents of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, as part of the Bezos Family Foundation. Scholars are selected based on demonstrated leadership abilities, willingness to embrace challenges, and the desire to create positive change in their communities.