Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Sun Youth Forum a teen think tank

If Southern Nevada had a teenage think tank, it could have been the boisterous group meeting at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

About 700 high school students wrangled through an oral obstacle course Tuesday, playing verbal pyrotechnics in groups of 50 - sometimes until they were red in the face - trying to find solutions to the world’s dilemmas.

The occasion: the 37th annual Las Vegas SUN Youth Forum.

“I don’t think we’ve come to a consensus on anything,” Channel 8 anchorman Gary Waddell, one of 14 adult moderators, lamented midway through the day-long event.

It’s probably a bit much to expect even the best and brightest from 23 Clark County high schools to come up with perfect solutions to world hunger, war and peace, national health care and mass transit.

But they tried.

“It was sort of tyranny of the masses there,” said Danny Greenspun, a moderator and vice president of the Las Vegas SUN.

Greenspun said the issue that sparked the most commotion was whether gays should be allowed to teach in the classroom.

It got loud. Then “everyone wanted to get off the subject,” said Las Vegas High School senior Helen Qualopez.

Then there was the question: “Should skinheads be allowed to shave swastikas in their hair?”

The consensus, Greenspun said, “They have the right to express themselves, but no one was real thrilled with it.”

“I find the hardest part for me is not expressing an opinion,” Greenspun added.

Moderators were allowed to correct factual mistakes, but were discouraged from taking sides. The aim was to encourage students to voice their opinions, no matter how unpopular.

Such guidelines lent themselves well to the abortion debate. In the room where Prime Cable executive Steve Schorr moderated, discussion was intense and students strained to be heard.

“I think we have to stress abstinence,” a girl volunteered.

Another, Valley High’s Tara Damron, countered, “Think about it: How many people in the world really want to say no?”

Someone suggested that if teens have sex, they should be prepared to marry there partners in case of pregnancy.

“You don’t want to have to marry him,” retorted Green Valley High School’s Jennifer Balducci. “Think about it, were kids.”

On a show of hands, more than half the room favored the right of a woman to choose an abortion. On another question, nearly all students said it was OK to ask a boyfriend or girlfriend to take an AIDS test. Four of the 51 students in the room admitted already having children.

As for establishing a comprehensive mass transit system in Las Vegas, students in one session said they did not believed people would give up their cars.

“I don’t care if a bus comes every 10 minutes,” one student said. “It’s not as convenient as having a car.”

Added another: “It’s kind of hard to pick up a date on a bus. What are you going to say (to a date), ‘Go meet me on the bus.’”

Clark High School’s Steve Farr and Adam Anderson had fun baiting liberal students with their conservative sermons.

“We’re taking opposite sides just to get some answers,” Farr said. “We’re trying to get things started. It’s a lot of fun.”