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Nonprofit puts ninth-graders on college track in elementary school internships

Las Vegas High School ninth-grader Alyssa Khamvongsa’s intent is clear. The back of her shirt says it all.

"Future College Graduate Here," it reads.

The shirt is her uniform, and she is wearing it on the first day of her new after-school internship at Goldfarb Elementary School, 1651 Orchard Valley Drive.

She is one of 20 high school students interning for Leaders in Training, a new nonprofit organization started by former Goldfarb teacher Erica Mosca.

Mosca picked 15 former students and five friends of those students to participate in the four-year college preparatory program.

"I will be the first college graduate in my household," Alyssa said, without any doubt about the eight-year journey ahead. "… (Mosca) brought college into my life. My family didn’t really ever talk about it."

Mosca talks to her students about it constantly. Alyssa remembers hearing her talk about it four years ago in her fifth-grade class. Mosca first came up with the Leaders in Training theme during the 2008-09 school year.

"For a lot of my students in fifth grade, it was the first time they heard about college," Mosca said. "Now there’s no question they’re going to go."

Mosca graduated from Boston University in 2008 and entered the Teach For America program, which places new teachers in at-risk schools such as Goldfarb.

"My life was completely changed because I had my college degree," she said. "I wanted to help other students have the same opportunities."

Mosca said she would like to help create an "intellectual atmosphere" in Las Vegas such as the one in Boston. That is where the elementary schoolchildren come in.

Each high school intern spends the last 30 minutes of Goldfarb’s school day working one-on-one with a struggling student or helping a teacher in a classroom. After school, each intern tutors a group of five students for nearly two hours.

"By having a high school student that wants to be there, we’re trying to start (the elementary students) early in the pipeline," Mosca said.

For the last two hours of the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday program, interns receive help with their own homework from volunteer teachers. Mosca may also have special lessons or projects scheduled. Students also are required to take part in weekend community service projects once a month.

The interns are mostly ninth-graders from the nearby East Career & Technical Academy, 6705 Vegas Valley Drive, and Las Vegas High School, 6500 E. Sahara Ave. The group also includes students from Advanced Technologies Academy, 2501 Vegas Drive; Eldorado High School, 1139 N. Linn Lane; and Green Valley High School, 460 Arroyo Grande Blvd.

Mosca provides transportation to Goldfarb in her SUV for several students, even taking some home after the program ends at 6 p.m.

During this inaugural year, students will mostly be confined to Portable 4 behind Goldfarb. Year two will include internships in the community and exposure to potential careers. In year three, students will take SAT and ACT preparation courses, visit colleges and prepare to apply. In the fourth and final year of the program, students will complete college applications and apply for scholarships.

Mosca hopes to run concurrent cohorts of Leaders every year. It will depend largely on funding, she said. Mosca is not collecting a salary and started the nonprofit using her savings. She hopes the program can eventually be made available to all interested high schools for free.

For more information or to donate, visit leaders-in-training.org.

Alyssa serves as Mosca’s executive assistant and has ambitious plans for the small nonprofit.

"I want to take (Mosca’s) job and take this program worldwide," Alyssa said.

Alyssa said she wants to join the Teach For America program, like Mosca, and help the poorest students in the valley.

She knows what a difference one teacher can make.

"(Mosca) has dreams and goals for us," Alyssa said. "She just cares that we go places when we’re older.

"I hate school, let’s be honest. But after hearing her talk about school, it just makes me work harder. I don’t know, she just has a spell on me."

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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