Leadership program empowers local youth to pursue higher education

Focused on empowering parents and youth to explore higher education opportunities, faculty and students from the Nevada State College school of education have joined the Family Leadership Initiative's FLY Zone program. Participants from NSC facilitate weekly workshops held at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Saturdays as well as local high schools, including Western, Eldorado, Desert Pines, Bonanza and Rancho.

Rosemary Flores, program director for the Family Leadership Initiative, has been working with the Clark County School District for more than 10 years.

"Our purpose is to work within our diverse population to encourage parents to become key players in their child's education and to become involved in their schools," Flores said. "We are building community while also working to reduce the dropout rate in our county."

The FLY Zone program was introduced in early 2012 as the youth focused extension of Family Leadership Initiative.

The NSC component of the FLY Zone program, entitled JUNTOS Go-to-College, is a series of four two- to three-hour sessions. According to Lori Navarrete, associate professor of education at NSC and a Family Leadership Initiative collaborative partner, the JUNTOS college-going component has several objectives: 1) to assist families in developing effective strategies to help their child be successful in high school; 2) to inform families about college access, college readiness and financial aid and scholarship literacy; 3) to provide families resources to help their child transition from high school to college; and 4) to increase the knowledge that families have about careers and economic outcomes of having a college degree.

Some of the topics of the workshops, in which both parents and youth attend, include community involvement, setting goals, being accountable for your learning, required course work by type of institution, GPA requirements, financial aid and scholarships, and resume and essay writing.

Over the summer, Navarrete recruited and trained three college students to lead the FLY Zone Go-to-College workshops. Two of the students are currently enrolled at NSC and the third is a student at the College of Southern Nevada. A fourth NSC graduate was recently hired to co-facilitate sessions as well.

"We strategically pair college students with youth in order to develop mentor-mentee relationships that will assist with successful high school completion and transition to college," Navarrete said. "Our college students, both of whom are teacher education candidates, gain experience working with diverse families and students while also learning the importance of understanding cultural capital issues and barriers as future educators."

Maria Yanez, an English major at NSC, felt very welcomed by the families when making a presentation during a FLY Zone session for the first time.

"Everyone is equal, from parents to kids. It's really a warm environment," she said. "The young students feel comfortable speaking with us as college students as we are similar. I actually wish this program had been available to my family when I was younger."

Currently, all families in the program are native Spanish speakers. The families range from native to foreign born mostly from Mexico, Central America and South America, from newcomer to first and second generation. Program sessions led by NSC have been bilingual or held completely in Spanish.

"I know my participation will benefit me as a teacher later on as I've gained more experience speaking and working with parents," said Melina Arguelles, a secondary education major at NSC. "I've also improved my Spanish-speaking skills."

This September, NSC joined the youth in the design and creation of a mural at Selby Park in Las Vegas.

"The mural, created by the students, is a timeline that represents the positive journey of them becoming part of a nation, going to school, joining together with other families, becoming employed and contributing to a better world, all while moving forward into the future," Arguelles said.

A second mural will be painted this month near the Neonopolis in downtown Las Vegas.

NSC students and faculty involvement in the FLY Zone program was made possible via the Nevada College Access Grant for 2012. Navarrete and Flores are currently working on plans to extend their collaborative efforts into the next year.

The Family Leadership Initiative is a nonprofit organization formed in 2008 with the mission of guiding and mentoring parents, families and youth to be ethical and active servant leaders always striving for academic success, safe environments and a better quality of life.