AVID students compete at St. Croix and turn trash into jewelry


Courtesy Díana Flores Leiva

Los Altos High School juniors Hazel Castaneda-López, Melissa Gabriel Villalba, Esperansa Kulyger Ruiz, Díana Flores Leiva, and Ángel Oregón stand on a beach in St. Croix. After winning the local Young Entrepreneurz Solutions (YES) Competition, they went to St. Croix to present their project at the national level.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This was the motto of five Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students as they researched and designed Green Bling — a project that simultaneously keeps beaches clean and creates sustainable jewelry. This project won the Green Bling team the local Young Entrepreneurz Solutions (YES) Competition, and earned them a spot at the national competition in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and the chance to win the funding to make their proposal a reality. 

Juniors Angel Oregon, Esperansa Kulyger Ruiz, Hazel Lopez, Diana Flores and Melissa Gabriel were randomly assigned to the same group and started developing a project idea late last year. They met over zoom to research and put together their project, Green Bling, for the local competition. Despite their initial doubts, their project ended up winning their local competition, securing them a trip to the national 2022 YES Competition in the US Virgin Islands.

“We were like, we’re not gonna win,” junior Diana Flores said. “It was really just off the top of our heads. And the fact that we all came together and ended up getting first place locally was really, really fun.”

Their full proposal focuses on using the trash collected from beaches to create marketable jewelry. They also hope to impact their larger community, with seminars and conferences to engage the neighborhood near these beaches while working with large corporations to make them eco-friendly.

“I just was really inspired, like your generation cares,” AVID teacher Arantxa Arriada said. “It just reminded me that [teenagers] are aware of the big picture. [They] see what’s going on and are trying to come up with creative solutions to fix problems that my generation and the people older than me contributed to.”

Green Bling was one of only nine groups selected to present their business at the national YES competition. They faced a panel of judges, including American entrepreneurs Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, both best known for co-founding the seminal hip-hop label Roc-A-Fella Records. After a 14-hour flight to Saint Croix, the team continued to work on refining their proposal. 

“We stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m.,” Diana said. “We had four days to create our business, so we spent almost a whole night trying to fix it, including the morning to rush in some last edits.”

The team was responsible for their entire proposal and presentation, working independently from the brainstorming process to the final design of their website.

“I don’t think they had a lot of hand-holding at all,” Arriada said. “That’s also why I’m proud of them, it’s all them you know?”

Unfortunately, Green Bling didn’t win. While winning would have provided the group with the money they needed to launch their business, the team is still determined to continue pursuing Green Bling. 

“It wasn’t really a loss for us,” Diana said. “A lot of people mentioned to us that they remembered our business because it was the only one that was actually eco-friendly. So, even though we didn’t walk out with a big bag in our hands, we walked out with a lot of knowledge and experience that will help us.”

The team is still determined to see their business come to fruition and plan to use the knowledge and connections they made at the competition to their advantage.

“I just kind of went into the program to get as much experience as I could, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go into business,” junior Esparanza Kulyger Ruiz said. “But like, now going into this program, and meeting all these new people, it’s something I consider.”

The team has created an Instagram account, @greenbling2022, and maintains their website https://green-bling.yolasite.com/ with pictures of the jewelry they’ve created.