Southaven Middle School - Disney Project

The 10 Southaven Middle School students who are taking their Disney resort project to Orlando next month are (from left) Samiyah Thomas, Esther Lochridge, Brooklyn Stewart, Preston White, Mireya Bolanos, Aiden Alexander, Hayden Gamble, Nicholas Douglas, Joncarlo Dunlop and Jena Chambers.  

Bob Bakken|DTT

A group of 10 Southaven Middle School students next month will spend some classroom time away from the walls of the Rasco Road West campus. In fact, Mickey Mouse ears may be required attire in this educational setting.

The group, part of Ashley Riley’s 8th grade AP (Advanced Placement) English class at the school, will be involved in what is called, The Disney Youth Education Series.

Riley became aware of the program as she was using the book, “The Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disney’s Success,” in her classroom. The book details how the Disney brand became one of the most powerful brands in the world, through its focus on customer satisfaction, exceeding expectations and respecting employees.

Riley wanted to apply the book’s lessons into what she called, “The Disney Project,” where her students were placed into small groups with the task of designing their own “Magic Kingdom” Disney-style resort.

“They have to do everything, from designing the outside of the building, the swimming pools, the rooms and lobbies, to creating restaurants and making menus for each restaurant,” Riley said. “It’s a very, very detailed project. They’re doing this while all of the Seven Keys they read about in the book are in their resort, as well.”

The Disney success story has been taught in Riley’s class the last few years, but this year, she wanted to “up” the project and take it to another level, a move supported by her principal, Paul Chrestman.

“Disney suggested its Youth Education Program, an amazing program that they have at Walt Disney World in Orlando and now they also have it in California,” Riley said. “It’s all of these different classes at Disney that takes students behind the scenes of the theme parks to teach them lessons that enhances what they are already learning in the classroom.”

Inspired by the possible reward, which would be inclusion in the Disney Youth Education Program, Riley said this year’s projects were the best she’s ever seen.

“These kids just blew my mind with the level of creativity and hard work,” said Riley. “The projects I got this year were the best projects I’ve ever seen in my nine years of teaching. The 10 were chosen based on the project and the presentation that went along with it. They put in just insane amounts of hard work with lots of creativity and just really took their projects to that Disney level. They knocked it out of the park.”

Aiden Alexander, one of the students selected for the Disney trip, realized the need for teamwork and hard work to accomplish the goal.

“It requires teamwork among everyone, determination and perseverance, where you have to work as hard as you can into this project,” Alexander said. “We were making this resort, the best of the best, that represents something or a theme that would show up in our resort. You had to have the best presentation to win.”

Funding for the trip is coming from the students and parents themselves. Along with the cost of the trip, each student will have a three-day park ticket and admission to one DYEP class during the trip, which will be from Jan. 11-15. They will also visit Hollywood Studios and on the last day revisit Epcot to learn about different countries and cultures.

“Parents created a Facebook donation page that they have sent around to everybody they know,” Riley said. “I’m just so overwhelmed by the amount of support the community has given us to try to make this happen for these kids.”

Riley is confident the week will more than just some fun time away from school.

“The teamwork and the experience of taking the trip to Disney is not only educational, but it really embodies the belief that you can do anything and you have options and opportunities in life,” said Riley. “If you’re willing to work hard, anything is possible. If you can imagine it, you can do it.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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