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Kids get college scholarships promised to them as third graders in 2015

Updated April 22, 2024 - 7:27 pm

Evelin Lopez was 9 years old and a third grader at Martinez Elementary School in North Las Vegas in 2015 when she and her fellow pupils were called to line up to prepare for a big announcement.

The school already notified the students’ parents to come to class to hear the message — that the 25 students in that class would each receive a college scholarship when they finished high school.

“We walked in,” recalls Lopez, now 18 and set to graduate from Rancho High School next month. “I think I was probably confused because I didn’t know what a scholarship was. I didn’t even know about college.

“And of course I was very surprised and then I’d seen other people crying and like parents crying,” said Lopez, a U.S. citizen whose parents emigrated from Mexico. “And I was surprised. I think because no one has gone through college in my family.”

Nine years and three months later, Lopez was among the 10 former Martinez students, now at the end of their senior year in high school, attending a ceremony Saturday and receiving medals symbolizing their awards of four-year college scholarships as promised by The Rogers Foundation, an education-focused nonprofit group.

The event, at the Beverly Theater in downtown Las Vegas, was the culmination of the foundation’s first effort at awarding scholarships after the death of Jim Rogers, who set up a trust funded by the sale of KSNV-TV, Channel 3, which he owned, and his extensive automobile collection, said Rogers’ widow and foundation board chairman Beverly Rogers.

For Lopez, her scholarship will go toward classes at Nevada State College in Henderson, where she wants to major in education and become an elementary school teacher.

“I’m so excited,” Lopez said. “The fact that I’m now able to fully understand it now makes me even more excited. It’s like a dream.”

Two others from the 2015 class who attended the ceremony, Ja’Lonna Young, 17, and Litzy Garcia Bermudez, 18, plan to attend the University of Nevada, Reno — Young to study toward becoming a veterinarian and Garcia Bermudez, like Lopez, to major in education for a teaching career.

Both recalled the day they heard about the scholarships as third graders.

“I remember all the parents crying, but I didn’t understand why!” said Young, who owns two dogs and a cat and plans to take them to live with her in an apartment she will rent in Reno.

“I just remember we all went to the library and there were just a lot of cameras and they had given us like a backpack and they are telling us what we had gotten but we didn’t really know what was going on,” said Garcia Bermudez, who intends to live in a dormitory on UNR’s campus.

Garcia Bermudez added that she not only liked having her tuition paid but also being “able to go to college to a place I want to go to.”

‘Put the shoes on and go for it’

The mothers of the two young women were visibly delighted as well.

Ja’Lonna’s mother, Jamie Jones, 39, said that the scholarship news back then inspired her daughter to do better in school over the years.

“I just told her that now you know that you have a free ride, it’s time to really put the shoes on and go for it, and she’s been doing that ever since,” Jones said.

Garcia Bermudez’s mom recalled feeling a little unsure that the scholarships would come through.

“When she was in third grade, we were like OK, they’re going to forget about it, maybe it’s not going to happen,” Maria Garcia Bermudez said. “But no, now it’s so real. And we’re so grateful to have this opportunity for her to make everything easier to go to college.”

The original third-grade class in 2015 had 25 students, with one absent on the day of the announcement.

The former Martinez students who were unable to attend Saturday’s ceremony, including some who have moved out of state, will still get their scholarships, according to Michelle Loosbrock, a spokesperson for the foundation.

Coming through for the kids

The scholarships cover the costs each student incurs for tuition, books and fees for four years to obtain an undergraduate degree, said Rory Reid, the foundation’s chief executive officer, a Las Vegas lawyer and son of the late Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.

Beverly Rogers, who was ill and not able to attend Saturday, said in a phone interview that Channel 3 sold for $90 million and an auction for her husband’s car collection garnered $10 million to fund the foundation, which is devoted to scholarships and promoting children’s education in Southern Nevada.

“Jim died in June of 2014 and we, you know, he left us a lot of money, very few parameters,” she said. “We got to make our own rules and, you know, he was a big, powerful, loud, opinionated bundle of generosity and when we sat down to determine the kinds of things we wanted to do, we knew we would be granting scholarships and we knew we wanted to do things in a big way because that really represented him well.”

Only months after Jim Rogers’ passing, the foundation was pondering what it wanted to do first.

“I don’t even remember who had the idea because as soon as it was thought of, it was like, oh my gosh, this is what we do, like, let’s kick off by granting a whole classroom of kids a college education,” Beverly Rogers said.

“We had somebody research for us the best year when families and kids might start to recognize what that would mean and start to be able to work toward it,” she said. “And they said third grade and we studied different schools.”

The fledgling foundation settled on a third grade class at Martinez Elementary, which had raised its rating, on a 5-star scale, from one to three stars and was on its way up, with a good principal and teachers and by engaging with parents, she said.

The school’s principal, Tim Adams, held a lottery with the names of the school’s four third-grade teachers on pingpong balls and one teacher’s name, Dr. Sharon Vuich, “came up like the first six times,” Rogers said.

“So he said it was like destined to be,” she said. “And then, you know, she won the lottery. So it was her class and she was just as thrilled. It was like she’d won the jackpot.”

She said she remembers when the kids and their parents began to cheer when the heard the news about the paid educations. Each kid received a T-shirt and they posed for photos, including one group picture that hangs today in the front of the foundation’s office at 701 S. Ninth St., she said.

Adams, 50, who attended the ceremony and is still the principal at Martinez, said that when the foundation came to him about the scholarships he realized “it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students. (I) never had seen that before in the 20-plus years I’d been in education.”

“So to see that nine years later, to come to fruition, it was amazing,” Adams said.

A previous version of this story misspelled Litzy Garcia Bermudez’s name.

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Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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