weather icon Clear

Smart Start a boost for Las Vegas valley’s highest-need schools

For Hoggard Elementary students, it means early career advice.

At Squires, it helped the archery team compete in the national championships.

To Detwiler pupils, it can be as simple as additional meals.

Smart Start, Station Casinos’ philanthropic venture with the Clark County School District, is marking its 18th cycle of donating $10,000 and thousands of volunteer hours to each of its 11 partner elementary schools.

The program targets some of the valley’s highest-need schools by sending Station Casinos employees to the campuses to assist with things such as leading nutrition classes and helping with homework. Students are brought to the sponsor casinos for etiquette luncheons, as well as bowling and skating parties.

Lori Nelson, Station Casinos’ vice president of corporate communications, said the venture is aimed at teaching young students “that education is important, and getting an education is freedom.”


Detwiler Elementary School, 1960 Ferrell St., deploys some of its Smart Start funding to motivate students to simply show up.

“With attendance, it’s really helping out to get those kids incentivized so they come to school,” Principal Deborah Palermo said. Then, she said, teachers can focus on making sure their pupils are “respectful, responsible and ready to learn.”

In a school where every student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, meals and pizza parties serve as great motivators, she said.

“It really helps us fund their student incentives to help them keep going and reward them for making gains in their reading or in their behavior,” Palermo said. “Because of our situation, they’re at-risk; they really work hard for food or items. That’s a really good incentive for them, because they appreciate those things.”

Fifth-graders at Detwiler are treated to a year-end ice skating party at their sponsor casino, Fiesta Rancho. The employees donate money beyond Station’s $10,000 commitment to fill in gaps throughout the school year.

“Our fundraisers, we have a few here,” Palermo said. “But they don’t yield much money, because our community just can’t bring that in.”


Casino employees donate and distribute school supplies each fall at Squires Elementary School, 1312 E. Tonopah Ave. They deliver Christmas gifts and cookies for those most in need; read and provide books to the library during Nevada Reading Week; and have partnered with students on a food drive for Three Square.

Each May, every fifth-grader is invited to a luncheon in the Texas Station banquet rooms, Principal Barry Bosacker said, “to teach our kids proper etiquette when participating in fine dining, which is not an experience a lot of our kids have.”

“It’s a pretty awesome experience, actually, for the kids,” he continued. “They absolutely love it. They dress up in their best and show their new skills.”

After the school’s archery team qualified for the national championships, Texas Station employees surprised them during May’s luncheon with donations to help cover the travel expenses to Salt Lake City.


Each year, 10 students and their families are chosen to go to Hoggard Elementary School’s partner casino, Santa Fe Station, for a catered family meal, as well as games, music and presents from Santa Claus. Hoggard is at 950 N. Tonopah Drive.

Despite having a large population of students who qualify for subsidized lunches, as a math and science magnet, Hoggard’s needs are different from those of other schools. Among the many uses, its Smart Start funds go toward entering academic competitions and allowing fifth-graders to attend a two-night program at Camp Lee on Mount Charleston where they conduct hands-on experiments.

As part of the school’s recent trunk or treat, Santa Fe employees sponsored three trunks’ worth of candy.

Volunteers also show up during career week to advise students.

“There’s a lot of supervisors and managers out there that do take the time to talk about their education and how the choices they made in life led to their career choices,” said Principal Stacey Scott-Cherry. “It’s just kind of a motivating thing for them.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.