Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

LV teens tackle social problems

Teenagers in Southern Nevada grow up fast in an atmosphere - some say battleground - where violence, declining education standards and difficult sexual choices abound.

That was the consensus from Clark County’s 23 high schools who participated in the annual SUN Youth Forum.

About 700 students selected for good grades and interest discussed topics ranging from pornography to police and affirmative action to the media during the event at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

But it was the things they confront every day - the threat of violence,teacher competence, the difficulty of advancing to college, sex and AIDS - that drew the most passionate comments.

“Think of how it spreads,” Cheyenne High School junior Kristis Warne said of the AIDS epidemic. “People were fooling around when they shouldn’t have been.”

She elaborated: “I think there are a lot of people who think that way, but they’re afraid to speak up for what there friends will speak.”

But another student said knowing your partner’s sexual history is more constructive than taking a moralistic stance.

“If you’re close enough to have sex with someone, you’re close enough to ask them to be tested,” said Stephanie Pacey, a junior at Green Valley High School.

On the subject of premarital sex, Greg Stenson, a Western High School senior, expressed a more permissive view.

“I don’t think you should have to wait until you’re married to have sex,” Stenson said. “Marriage shouldn’t have to be a license.”

Differences of opinion emerge quickly in the wide ranging sessions, which were moderated by prominent Las Vegans such as Mayor Jan Laverty Jones, Assemblyman Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas, and U.S. District Judge Phillip Pro.

A Boulder City High School student said she knew of no pregnant girls attending her school. But 15-year-old Heidi Patterson responded: “You don’t go to Rancho.”

Patterson , who said she has been engaged twice, said the problem there is “terrible.”

Some students exhibited a worldly attitude about contraception. But they made it clear that they learned the facts from their parents and friends, not from teachers.

“The sex education they give at school is how babies are born, the physiology of it.”

As a result, she said, many of her peers know little about sex and its consequences.

“Most teenagers expect the other to have (contraception) or they’re absent-minded,” Kennedy said. “They don’t think it would happen to them.”

The session entitled Law & Crime addressed the issue of gun control, among others. Comments at times reflected horror stories of students’ brushes with death.

Joey Fisher, a Las Vegas High School senior, told how one day an acquaintance showed him an AK-47 assault rifle in the trunk of his car. He asked him what it was for. The response: For a drive-by shooting.

Chris Harris, a Gorman High School senior, mentioned a tragedy that touched him and crystalized his views on gun control.

“A friend of mine, a girl, killed herself with her fathers rifle,” Harris said. “It was right there on the mantle. Ever since then, I’ve been against having guns in the house.”

But Brooklyn Bunker, a Bonanza High School senior, took a more pragmatic view.

“People don’t act well to absolutes,” she said. “We’ve got to control it rather than ban it.”

America’s educational decline drew a big response from students, who alternately blamed institutional drawbacks and their own deficiencies.

“I’ve had a teacher show an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie during class,” said Rebecca Cecil, a Basic senior. “He’s just a trained babysitter. I need someone to help me understand.”

But Tee Raskin, a Bonanza senior, said American students have become complacent while their counterparts in Asia and Europe have taken the lead.

Stacey Auxier, a senior at Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center, agreed saying that for many, acquiring the latest fashion has replaced striving for excellence.

“We’re never satisfied,” Auxier said. “We’re hungry for more and more. And when we get it, we don’t want it anymore.”

The moderators of the day-long event, now in its 36th years, uniformily walked out with a strong appreciation for students’ intelligence and depth of experience.

“Sometimes you think you should let them take over to solve the problems,” said Price, a veteran state lawmaker.

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