Four students from Martin Luther King Middle School in Beaumont, Texas were the main focus at the first Friend-Raiser event with Green Dot Public Schools where community business and civic leaders, gathered to learn about the work underway at this turnaround school.
The event was hosted by Green Dot Southeast Texas board member, Heather Petkovsek at her home, and co-hosted by fellow board member, David Willard together with Stephanie Glass Flatten. The event introduced Beaumont business leaders and philanthropists to eighth graders Akima LeFleur, Arturo Angeles, Kennedy Castille, Javan Prejean who shared their school experiences over the past year while Green Dot Executive Director, Cliff Claflin and Chief Development Officer, Douglas Weston provided context for the partnership launched in 2021 with the Beaumont Independent School District.
“It was really cool that people came to hear us talk about school. They were all really excited to hear from us and it made me feel good about the work I’m doing at school,” said LeFleur. Among other highlights, she shared the impact made on her by a Women to Women group from Lamar University who visited the school earlier in the year.
“It was great to have girls in college come and talk to us about our grades, to keep up the good work in school, and how much we can start doing for college now. I've never had anyone come talk to us about college before and it was nice to see that they care. I really liked meeting them.”
Arturo Angeles, on the other hand, explained that being part of an African American mentoring group gave him a different perspective in setting up his goals. He also felt good being able to talk to the group, as he had never felt comfortable with public speaking.
“They would come and talk to us during lunch, which was pretty cool. They’d tell us things about history and make it related to stuff we’re going through now. I really liked it,” added Angeles. “I normally don’t like to talk a lot, but everyone there made me feel good about getting up and speaking in front of everyone.”
Douglas Weston, Chief Development Officer at Green Dot, explained that the Friend-Raiser gave the students a unique opportunity to interact with leaders and well-wishers.
“This Friend-Raiser event, the first of many, gave us a unique opportunity to have our students meet with business leaders and families who share our core value of preparing students for college, leadership, and life. Both students and supporters had a very unique interaction that will help us enhance education at King Middle.”
As part of the revitalization program put in place by Green Dot, the campus underwent a refresh featuring positive messages from figures like Dr. King and poet Maya Angelou, energizing the everyday environment. Among the first steps taken to address academic performance was to reduce suspensions to ensure students not miss critical school time, while providing counseling on how to make the most of school.
The new energy in the school was reflected in the students’ exchanges with event attendees. “What made the most impact for me was getting to go to Lamar University with our science teacher,” said Kennedy Castille. “We got to meet other girls and do all these really cool science projects. I had never really thought about stem or engineering before, but after hearing them talk about all the cool jobs and what you can do, I’ve decided that I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” The gathered crowd cheered. “I had never really thought about what I wanted to do before then, so I’m really excited that King and Green Dot helped me to go to that.”
Javan Prejean, who is Student Council president at MLK Middle Schools, explained how this past year has given him the gift of participating in different activities as part of his curriculum at school.
“I’ve really liked getting to do all the ‘council’ activities at school like selling flowers and candy grams, we got to pass out food for the food bank, and just give back to the community and stuff like that. I really like to be involved and we've been able to do that this year,” said Prejean. “I also got to participate in the Black History Month Program and read Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. That was a lot of fun.”
Petkovsek was impressed by the students and pledged support that will continue to help advance the education of the more than 500 students at MLK Middle School. The event culminated with pledges of over $75,000 to help improve the quality of education at the school.
“This is just the beginning of the interest and support. We have been in a severe drought of educational hope, this story will continue to be lapped up like water to a weary dehydrated traveler. How precious are Akema, Javin, Kennedy and Arturo! Wow! What a gift to spend time with them,” said Petkovsek.
More events are planned as part of our mission to help transform public education so all students graduate prepared for college, leadership, and life.