Jaylen Bledsoe, an eighth grade student at Hazelwood West Middle School, is probably the only 13-year-old at school who is also the chief executive officer of a start-up information technology company (IT) - Bledsoe Technologies.
“About a year ago, I started a web design company,” he said. “Besides web design and IT, we do web development, photography, videography, computer repair, search engine optimization, voice recordings and consulting. Three years ago, when I was in GALACTIC, I took a video editing course and it really interested me.” He said he learned the basic drag-and-drop type, or What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) “but I wanted to learn how to do more.” GALACTIC is the District’s gifted education program.
“Even as early as third grade, it was clear that Jaylen was uniquely focused on where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do,” recalled Mara Berry, director of GALACTIC. “I think the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus in our elementary gifted curriculum really paid off with him.”
A few years ago, while on vacation in Florida, Bledsoe said he purchased $200 worth of textbooks on hypertext mark-up language (HTML) and hypertext preprocessor (PHP) code to help him expand his knowledge and it put him in a prime spot to help a family member.
“I was in charge of marketing and website design for my cousin, Linzie Gray, who is a pop and rhythm-and-blues singer,” he said.
As he prepares to enter high school, he wants to find other students with similar interests. He hopes to train and eventually bring them into his company, www.bledsoetechnologies.com, as a team. Working from his parents’ home, he currently has four employees - two local and two in India. Bledsoe also has an attorney.
“Jaylen is ‘The President’ at West Middle,” said Dr. Allison Klouse, principal. “He does all of our technology for the student talent show, our plays, etc. He mentors underclassmen and is an all-around amazing young man.”
Bledsoe has a 4.0 GPA and is involved in a variety of extracurricular activities in and out of school - he has served as the vice president of the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) for the last two years, served as Student Council president for three years, is part of the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) and is the director of technology for the school’s audio-visual programs. He is involved in Leaders for Social Justice and he teaches a computer class at the school on Thursday evenings.
“I am a part of the Wyman Teen Leadership Program. It is a five-year program I attend for 30 days over the summer,” he said. “After the fifth year, the program has counselors who will continue to help us out in college. I applied for this program during the beginning of my seventh grade year and I found out I was accepted at the end of that year. There was an extensive application process and only a certain amount of people who applied were accepted. I’m also the president of the St. Louis chapter of the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) and I’m running for the board of directors over the summer,” added Bledsoe.
After graduating from high school, Bledsoe has his sights set on Harvard University. He aspires to major in business administration and computer science. Then he intends to continue at Harvard to obtain his master’s degree in law, with the hope of becoming a copyright attorney.
“Jaylen is one of our students who represent the Best of West on Team 8B,” said Bonnie Waldrop, his communication skills teacher. “He earns high marks in all of his classes and participates in the Students’ Activities in Investigative Learning (SAIL) Program. What is most impressive about Jaylen is the growth he has demonstrated in his service to others. Whether teachers need help networking laptops to a new printer or students need help taking their incorporation of technology in their communication arts projects to the next level, we can all count on Jaylen to enthusiastically share his tech expertise with our school community.
“Jaylen gives voice to students’ concerns and helps staff develop programs and solutions to meet students’ needs,” continued Waldrop. “There are no limits to what the future holds for our resident CEO. I predict that Jaylen will not only be a highly successful businessman but he will also be a recognized as a community leader who gives back to his community through service and helping young men and women achieve their goals.”
“I realize every kid doesn’t have an opportunity to start his or her own business at age 13,” said Bledsoe. “I did it on a very small budget. I took it from an idea to an action. It’s an adult world out there. We can all do the same things; you have to have the right amount of dedication.”
Bledsoe has a new post to add to his already impressive résumé – Chief Technology Officer of St. Louis Volunteen.com, which launched nationally on March 7.
“Jaylen is currently working to organize a recognition program for teenagers across St. Louis for outstanding volunteerism,” said Becky Cook, his science teacher. “Jaylen recognizes the positive role that teenagers play in building a better future and works to develop opportunities for more teens to become active members of their communities.”
“I truly have enjoyed Jaylen in my class this year,” said Tom Wallis, his social studies teacher. “He, like all of my students, had to get used to the eighth grade and my standards. Jaylen always seems to take what I have to say and put it into practice, unlike a lot of kids his age. I supervise a ‘computer club,’ where he actually does the teaching. It’s more like a web design club and the kids in it seem to take his direction well. He is also quite patient with the students, even more so than some teachers I know. He has gotten my Promethean peripherals to work when other adults could not and he has helped me set up Skype sessions with Hazelwood East Middle School.”
Since he cannot drive yet, Bledsoe relies on his father for transportation.
“My dad is very supportive,” he said. “He takes me to a lot of my meetings.”
“I don’t see many eighth graders do the things that he does but it’s all his doing,” said Curtis Bledsoe. “I’m very proud of him.”
Bledsoe said his godparents are entrepreneurs who own many rental properties and acted as big influences on him. He witnessed their hard work and dedication over the years and they served as his initial investors in Bledsoe Technologies, which has been a blessing as he needs to upgrade computers often as technology changes.
“He is constantly looking for ways to improve his school and local community,” continued Cook. “He is involved with improving student access to technology across the District and probably a number of other issues that I can’t keep up with. When Jaylen takes on a project, he works from a systemic point of view. He contacts and meets with professionals throughout our community to develop a plan of action and then coordinates the implementation. He has grown during his time here at Hazelwood West Middle from developing himself as an individual to becoming an agent of positive change for society.”
As an example of this systemic approach, Bledsoe, a vegetarian, said he asked Superintendent Dr. Steve Price to ask for changes to the middle school lunch menu. Price referred him to Trisha Plunkett, director of child nutrition.
“Jaylen and I have been in communication in regards to vegetarian choices offered at school,” said Plunkett. “We now offer a garden burger at lunch and a vegetarian wrap daily. These are in addition to the other entrée choices offered each day and the salad bar. We offer other meatless items, such as whole grain grilled cheese, whole grain cheese pizza and whole grain pretzels and cheese.”
He submitted his vegetarian menu plan to VH1’s “Do Something Awards,” which honor those under 25 as pivotal do-ers in their field, cause or issue. Five finalists will receive $10,000 community grants while the grand prize winner will receive a $100,000 community grant.