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Chicago-area high school student selected to be part of landmark 15th year of Disney Dreamers Academy Program

Disney Dreamers Academy, an educational mentorship program created and hosted by Walt Disney World Resort, plans to return with a reimagined approach, March 3-6, marking its 15th year of broadening career awareness and creating exclusive opportunities for Black students and teens from underrepresented communities across America. A Chicago-area teen will be part of the 100 high school students to participate in the exclusive program’s Class of 2022.

Kayla Nelson, Frankfort, Illinois, is a 17-year-old senior at Lincoln-Way East High School. She has enjoyed playing basketball for all four years in high school, as well as being able to take a Teaching Internship at school. “It allows me to go to a feeder school and be a student teacher for two hours out of my school day,” she said. “When I graduate from high school, I plan to play basketball at the college level, and major in education and become a teacher within two years of me graduating from college.”

Kayla participates in “Top Teens of America,” where she does community service and helps others to achieve their goals. “When I am not in school, I’m often in the gym practicing basketball to be prepared for the next level. I love to travel with my mom, hang out with friends and work. I believe that going into education to become a teacher will give kids the opportunity to love coming to school and to learn in fun and innovative ways.”

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Kayla Nelson

Kayla is excited to return to Walt Disney World, since she last visited as a toddler.

As far as participating in DDA, she says: “What I’m anticipating most is the overall experience and making connections with people from other states.”

She adds that playing a sport for four years is rewarding because it has shown her how to be disciplined on and off the court. “These are traits that I will need in my everyday life, and especially when I will be playing at the next level.”

This year, the impactful program will introduce the Disney Dreamers to an array of new immersions designed to continue to foster the dreams of young leaders beyond imagination, including career-building workshops, networking sessions, mentorship connections and introductions to future professional opportunities at The Walt Disney Company and beyond.

For its 15th year, Disney Dreamers Academy is supporting students in even more ways. In a new initiative, Disney Dreamers Academy, in partnership with ESPN’s The Undefeated and GRAMMY-nominated rap artist Cordae, is awarding college scholarships to 11 students from underrepresented communities attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The Disney Dreamers program is an important part of Disney’s commitment to supporting diverse communities, such as Black America, by encouraging the next generation to think big and to carry what they learn back with them, so they can relentlessly pursue their dreams and make a difference in the lives of others.

“We are excited and honored to celebrate 15 years of Disney Dreamers Academy with this year’s class,” said Tracey D. Powell, Walt Disney World Resort Vice President and Disney Dreamers Academy executive champion. “We’ve embraced this opportunity to amplify the event, and we’re thrilled to introduce new experiences, new career programs and new mentors.”

Since 2008, Disney Dreamers Academy has inspired more than 1,300 students from across the country by fueling their dreams and showing them a world of possibilities as they prepare for their futures. In the years following, graduates have gone on to become doctors, nurses, engineers, pilots, journalists and more, and have transitioned into mentors to the Disney Dreamers who follow them, including event speaker Princeton Parker (Class of 2011), who is now a Disney cast member.

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CHEF JEFF HENDERSON (left) demonstrates culinary tips to high school students from across the United States as part of the 2015 Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Each year the Disney Dreamers are selected from thousands of applicants who answer essay questions about their personal stories and dreams for the future. The students and a parent or guardian are given an all-expenses paid trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida for the event.

These Disney Dreamers engage in a wide variety of experiences at Walt Disney World while working side-by-side with and hearing inspirational stories from community and business leaders, Disney cast members, celebrities and other special guests.

During the four-day event, the 100 students selected for the annual program participate in sessions teaching valuable life tools such as leadership skills, effective communication techniques and networking strategies. They also experience in-depth career workshops in a variety of disciplines aligned with the students’ dreams. These workshops introduce the Disney Dreamers to diverse career paths within business, entertainment and sciences, including career opportunities within The Walt Disney Company.

Past celebrity participants have included stars from the big screen and television, noted sports figures, popular musicians as well as personalities and cast members from across the Disney family including “Good Morning America,’’ ESPN, Disney Channel and the TV series “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish.”

For more information, visit

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Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago ( or email: [email protected].

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