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Five R.I. students named as finalists for Papitto Opportunity Connection’s $1 million prize

The Transform Rhode Island Scholarship asked high school students to come up with an idea for helping people of color in Rhode Island. Each finalist will receive a scholarship, and the winning idea will become a reality, with $1 million in funding.

From left: Junior Daisha Jackson, senior Ziondre Ogiba, and junior Jalisa Ramos, all students at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, were named as finalists for the Papitto Opportunity Connection's "Transform Rhode Island" scholarship.Ian Barnard

PROVIDENCE -- Five teenagers from high schools in Providence and Woonsocket are finalists for the “Transform Rhode Island Scholarship” established by the Papitto Opportunity Connection -- and one of them has an idea worth a million dollars.

They were selected from nearly 100 students from 37 public, private, parochial, and charter high schools in Rhode Island who submitted their ideas to answer one big question: If you had a million dollars to benefit people of color in this state, what would you do?

The POC, a private foundation that funds scholarships and initiatives in housing, education, business, and entrepreneurial ventures benefiting people of color, posed this question for teenagers to come up with innovative plans to improve their own communities.


The winner, who will be announced at a celebration May 26, will see their idea backed with $1 million in funding from the POC.

The five students found out that they were finalists when the POC made surprise visits to their schools on Wednesday. All five students will receive at least a $2,500 scholarship.

Mariam Kaba, sophomore Woonsocket High School, a finalist for the Papitto Opportunity Connection's "Transform Rhode Island" scholarship. Ian Barnard

The top three, who will be chosen in May, will receive scholarships of $25,000, $15,000, or $10,000, to be used for tuition, housing, health care or other related costs.

The finalists, and their ideas, are:

Isabelle Mitchell – Grade 10, Wheeler School

Big Idea: Create an annual BIPOC festival to celebrate the job and strength of the BIPOC communities.

Jalisa Ramos – Grade 11, Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center

Big Idea: Urban Agriculture Project – program to grow food that also addresses multiple needs in the community.

Daisha Jackson – Grade 11, Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center

Big Idea: Create Yoga Mats with a QR code that would provide constantly changing information on health and mental wellness.


Ziondre Ogiba – Grade 12, Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center

Big Idea: A program that combines athletics and education to combat summer learning loss.

Mariam Kaba – Grade 10, Woonsocket High School

Big idea: A program that addresses job creation that is also designed to provide mental health resources and restore communities

Barbara Papitto, left, founder of the Papitto Opportunity Connection, with Wheeler School sophomore Isabelle Mitchell. Ian Barnard

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.