Las Vegas’ next leaders may come from program for underprivileged kids

Erica Mosca first experienced education inequality as a teenager in California, although she didn’t know what to call it at the time. Her dad, chasing a better job, moved the family across the state to a solidly middle-class area from a poorer community. All of a sudden, school got hard for Mosca.

“I remember sitting in an Advanced Placement class and being told I was failing, even though I was ranked No. 7 in my old school,” she recently recalled. “I couldn’t understand. I hadn’t changed.”

Today, Mosca is leading an effort to combat the disparity she experienced through Leaders in Training, a program aimed at helping underprivileged students in Las Vegas navigate high school and college, all while training them to become community leaders.

The inspiration for the program springs from Mosca’s experience years ago, when she was accepted into a program affiliated with her new school that helped first-generation students apply to college. That helped her make the adjustments to get back on track.

After graduating, she attended Boston University and landed in Las Vegas in 2008 as part of Teach for America, a nonprofit that works to expand educational opportunities for children facing the challenges of poverty.

Frustration fuels departure

When she stepped inside her fifth-grade classroom at Goldfarb Elementary School in east Las Vegas, she says she saw that inequity again.

Mosca quickly became frustrated by the limited impact she was able to have in the classroom, which she blamed on a system where the quality of education students received largely depended on where they lived and whatever support system they had at home.

She had already set down roots in the area, buying a town house and moving her parents to town, but she left Las Vegas for a few years to earn a master’s degree in policy from Harvard University.

When she returned in 2010, she worked for the state, helping craft the first school ratings system. But again, she felt she was having little impact.

“I realized, you can work really hard in policy, but to me it’s not going to make a difference. I didn’t see it,” she said.

She changed course again. In 2012, when her first set of fifth-graders were freshman in high school, she struck out on her own and started Leaders in Training.

Though she was no longer part of the Clark County School District, Mosca relied on connections she had made as a teacher to find students, mentors and donations.

“That first year, it was nuts. We had no idea what we were doing. The board was my friends,” Mosca, 31, said recently. “That first class that joined in 2012, they are college sophomores. We have almost 120 kids now.”

The voluntary program — now working with its sixth set of students — accepts children of all backgrounds, though many would be the first children in their families to go to college. The students complete volunteer projects in the community but are also provided with support themselves. Mosca monitors their grades, helps them find internships and tries to instill a sense of social justice.

Cohorts of leaders

The program, which operates out of three locations and now has nearly 120 students from 19 local high schools, divides kids into “cohorts” based on their grade levels. The oldest kids, who are sophomores in college, are in cohort 1. The youngest kids, in cohort 6, are freshmen in high school.

That includes Jesse Cruz, a 14-year-old freshman at Canyon Springs High School. As a first-year student, he’s logging volunteer hours, including volunteering at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission before Thanksgiving and tutoring younger students, a monthly requirement.

“This is a great way of gaining a step in the college application process, too,” Cruz said.

Students take on new roles and responsibilities every year. One year that might be a required internship, the next a social justice project.

Throughout the process, students also tutor younger students at area schools, including Futuro Academy and Goldfarb Elementary.

“It’s a way for little kids to get introduced into being a leader. You’re in charge of these kids and you’re making sure they’re doing they’re work. It’s a little bit difficult. Sometimes they get a little … interesting,” Cruz said.

They call the tutoring program Little Leaders. It started as a gift-in-kind. Mosca needed space, and Goldfarb provided her with portable classrooms in exchange for tutoring.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who don’t do well in school, but this is the only place they feel their affirmation,” Mosca said. “Even if you’re failing your math class, you can teach a kindergarten student or a first-grader.”

Small beginnings

Cruz is still learning the ropes at Leaders in Training, but Nestor Sanchez is an old hand. Mosca was his fifth-grade teacher. Now, he’s at UNLV, studying journalism and media.

“A lot of us grew up together. Ms. Mosca was our teacher,” he said. “We were known as the guinea pigs of LIT.”

Sanchez’s parents are from Mexico, and he was the first member of the family born in the United States. He wanted to be a veterinarian, but he was learning English and school was a struggle, making it unlikely he would be able to attend college.

Then he enrolled in Mosca’s program.

“She just called us, she said let’s go to Circus Circus and then we can talk about college and the program there. That’s when she told us and that’s when we signed up,” he said.

The program has grown substantially since. The first cohort was 12 kids. Cohort 6 is double that.

Mosca’s budget for the first year was $5,000, almost all of it her own money. Last year it was more than $150,000, thanks in part to a few local grants.

“It’s been really scrappy,” Mosca said.

Future leaders

Mosca’s students who continue on to college — and most of them do — have a 100 percent persistence rate. Nobody has dropped out so far. But her goal extends beyond a college degree.

Many of Nevada’s problems, Mosca says, can and will be solved by its next-generation leaders. Her goal is for these students to come back and stay here.

“How do you actually empower people from the community to make real change that’s lasting?” she said. “(With) a bench of diverse leaders who are from Nevada. … That’s the vision.”

That vision shows through students like Cruz, the second-oldest of four children. His parents are from Mexico and met in Las Vegas. His mother works from home, and his father is a bartender at TI. Neither finished the sixth grade, he said.

“They’ve pushed us. Our parents have made sure we connected with people,” Cruz said.

Connecting with people may prove handy one day. He’s decided he wants to run for governor — even if he’s not quite sure how to get there yet. He knows he’ll need a college degree, and he has set his sights on attending Harvard as an undergradatuate. Then he plans to earn a law degree, probably from Harvard, too.

Prior to his planned run for the Governor’s Mansion, he figures he’ll need some work experience. He’s not sure what he’ll do, but he knows what the outcome should be.

“I just want to give back to the community,” he said. “Growing up, my parents made sure we had friends who had a positive impact on us. I want to do that.”

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
News
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like