Nevada State College symposium helps give at-risk Las Vegas students motivation to graduate

Juniors and seniors from four area high schools attended a Student Leadership Symposium at Nevada State College, 1125 Nevada State Drive. It’s a fair bet that none of them expected to hear what motivational speaker Roy Juarez Jr. had to say.

Juarez spoke for nearly an hour, holding the teens’ attention as he detailed his life as a homeless 14-year-old with his 9-year-old brother and his 2-year-old sister living on friends’ and family’s couches and on the streets. His mother had fled from his physically abusive family, and when she met a man who would take her in and protect her, he wouldn’t take the children. Miraculously, after trials and tribulations and eventually finding a responsible adult who believed Juarez could make something of himself, Juarez returned to and graduated from high school, went to college and became homeless again by choice. He traveled the nation and lived in his car as he toured the country, telling his story. His siblings are also thriving, and they have all reconciled with and have a loving relationship with their birth parents.

The message may have hit home for many of the students, who come from some of the valley’s most economically depressed areas, including the areas that are zoned to Clark, Eldorado, Silverado and Sunrise Mountain high schools.

“We’re really not a neighborhood school,” said Leilani Shive, assistant principal at Sunrise Mountain High School, 2575 Los Feliz St. “Our zone is only a little over a mile wide but 7 miles long. It goes all the way to Las Vegas Boulevard and includes a lot of trailer parks, weekly rent motels and low-income housing. It’s a challenge because our kids aren’t from the same neighborhood, and they don’t know each other.”

The leadership symposium was sponsored by the district’s Family and Community Engagement Services, United Way of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College. It hosted first-generation students who utilized United Way’s Family Engagement Resource Centers to overcome barriers and challenges to stay on track to graduate.

“We’ve sponsored the Family Engagement Resource Centers at the four schools for four years,” said Terri Janison, vice president of community and government relations for United Way. “These are students who have been identified by the school district as needing the assistance provided by the program. It was the school district that found the motivational speaker. I think they really brought a lot out of everybody.”

In addition to the Student Leadership Symposium, the program has taken students to several college tours and special events designed to provide resources to help them succeed.

“At the very beginning of the year, we went to a leadership conference sponsored by (Clark County) Commissioner Lawrence Weekly,” said Vicenta Montoya, the main coordinator of the resource center at Sunrise Mountain High School. “It was the Latino Conference at West Las Vegas Library. A lot of the students were impressed with the presentations. Many of them also participated in the Latino Network of Southern Nevada that Councilman Bob Coffin put on.”

The program has offices in the schools and provides resources for both students and parents, including outreach services for food, clothing and counseling and access to Rosetta Stone licenses for parental English acquisition.

“The ESL rate is something like 85 percent at Sunrise, and it has one of the highest rates of free and reduced lunch and one of the the highest number of minority students at any school in the valley,” Montoya said. “It’s a turnaround school, and we’ve gone from a 59 percent graduation rate to over 70 percent. The program is providing caps and gowns for over 50 students this year.”

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To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email or call 702-380-4532.

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