Scholarship program provides lifelong learning for young girls By Taylor Shillam | Photo by Sara Sandelin
Every spring, several young women of Bonners Ferry practice valuable skills, gain unique experiences and receive professional guidance that will help shape their path to college and well into adulthood, thanks to the Bonners Ferry Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Program.
A franchise of a decades-old national program formerly known as Junior Miss, the Distinguished Young Women (DYW) Scholarship Program is a national, free program designed to provide young women opportunities to prepare for a successful future. DYW seeks to inspire high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase event, this year on April 30.
The Bonners Ferry DYW program has held 9 to 15 participants each year for 56 years. The junior-age girls must meet a set of lifestyle and attendance requirements prior to admission. The young women then compete for scholarships in the categories of scholastics, talent, self-expression (public speaking), fitness, and interview skills.
The final event is judged by five judges on a "very defined scoring rubric," shared Bonners Ferry DYW Chairman Andrakay Pluid, and "academics are extremely important. Before you step on stage for the program, 50 percent of your score has already been calculated." That's because scholastics comprise 25 percent of the final score, and the interview, which the girls prepare for for weeks and complete off-stage, comprises 25 percent.
"The only categories you'll see on stage are talent, self-expression, and fitness," Pluid said. The fitness component is scored from a four-minute choreographed group routine that is practiced in the weeks leading up to the event. Each individual also performs a unique 30-second solo routine.
The program uses an Olympic-style scoring system, with each and every participant provided a score on a scale of 1-10 and are not scored in comparison to other participants. "You are scored exclusively on your performance and merits," Pluid said. Before the girls take the stage for scoring, they participate in weeks of local service as part of the community-driven “Be Your Best Self Program," completing various service projects for organizations like the food bank and animal shelters.
They also spend three days a week honing their skills within the categories of focus, including public speaking. The girls practice taking the stage and speaking to a crowd with poise, presentation and proper content, with a self-expression coordinator from the DYW program leading the sessions.
They participate in interview clinics where they learn how to properly present themselves. "Typically, the committee members will help them through the process, in addition to guest speakers from the community," Pluid said. One Bonners Ferry DYW committee member is specially trained in interviewing in hiring, and plays a key role in helping the girls prepare for their final interview. Part of the interview prep includes completing a mock interview designed to be exactly like the final.
"Five community member judges will run through an interview exactly like the real one, providing feedback on the presentation and content so the girls can be better prepared and complete the interview one time without being scored," Pluid said.
The entire process is designed to help the girls present themselves in the best way possible—not just for the DYW program, but for life.
“The program does make a lasting impact on its participants, in terms of spring-boarding them into academic careers and service-oriented activities,” shared Pluid. “It provides them extra tools: interview skills, public speaking, and general confidence. Even if you don’t win, it has quite an impact on your life going forward.”
The program’s committee is comprised entirely of former participants who can provide expert guidance and help develop the lifelong impact for each year’s group of scholarship hopefuls.
The culminating event for the Bonners Ferry DYW takes place this year on April 30, at 6pm, at the Bonners Ferry High School auditorium. Tickets will go on sale the first full week of April.
Bonners Ferry DYW is grateful for the support of the community each and every year through ticket sales and donations. “The scholarships we award are entirely community-funded,” Pluid said. Because no scholarship money awarded by the Bonners Ferry franchise is provided by the state or national programs, they are always grateful to receive any donations provided by community members. As a 501c3 organization, all donations made are tax deductible.
Following the April event, the winner will represent Bonners Ferry state level competition in Idaho Falls in October. Should she win at a state level, she will continue on to represent the state of Idaho at the national competition in Alabama in June 2023, for the chance at the title of America's Distinguished Young Woman.
As one of the oldest, most active DYW programs in the country, Idaho has sent a state representative to the national level almost every year for the past 60 years, a proven track record for a program focused on the development of skilled, talented young women. To learn more or to support Bonners Ferry DYW, visit DistinguishedYW.org.