Las Vegas Sun

July 26, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

A fountain of youth ideas

It was a time for adults to sit back and be quiet, and a time for youths to speak out. And they did.

Close to 800 local high school students of varying political and philosophical beliefs convened at the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday for the 39th annual SUN Youth Forum and talked passionately about local, national and world issues.

The students broke into two groups or each of seven topics: Law and Crimes, School Daze, Around the World, Teen Topics, Home in Nevada, America and Potpourri. While community volunteers served as moderators, students jockeyed for the floor to expound their opinions - some of which led to heated debate.

One if the liveliest discussion centered on racism and affirmative action.

“We can drink out of the same water fountain and use the same toilets, but racism is still here,” said Hanna Fletcher, a Green Valley High School student.

Shoshanna Lowe of Chaparral High School said affirmative action can establish some balance. “Affirmative action was created to tip the scale back to equal, and I think it has done a pretty good job of that.”

Paul Murphy of Green Valley High School countered, “Affirmative action is fulfilling a number, but not creating opportunities.”

“It seems like minorities have a lot more opportunities,” said Nicole Omer of Moapa Valley High School. “Racism is turned around. If you are a white male, you are trashed.”

Students also clashed on issues of women in the military. “Men are genetically stronger for the front lines,” said Terry James of Bonanza High School.

Theresa Hankins of Sunset High School responded, “Some women can (fight on the front lines) just like some men can and some men can’t.”

Discussions on sexual harassment caused uncertainty. Adam Bult from Chaparral High School looked at the girl on his left. “If I tell her she looks nice today, she might be offended. It’s a fine line.”

Malissa Iannone of Bishop Gorman High School agreed sexual harassment was difficult to define, but she believes the individual decides. “If it’s gross to her and it is going to make her feel uncomfortable, then that’s harassment,” she said.

Marijuana and alcohol discussions abounded, too. While some students muttered that marijuana destroys brain cells, Amy Shajary of Clark High School said, “No one dies from marijuana. Drunk driving and smoking are much bigger problems than marijuana usage.”

Angelina Maguinness of Cheyenne noted that her family has followed the Italian custom of drinking wine with dinner, and children are allowed a glass, too.

“I think the problems are within our society. I have a deep respect for alcohol to where I will not abuse it.”

In one forum section, students expressed concern about homelessness in the Las Vegas Valley.

“Having shelters for the homeless is nice,” said Wetona Bell of Durango High School, “however, some homeless people don’t want to get back on their feet. They don’t want to be helped.”

Because of that, she said, the public doesn’t want to pay for homeless shelters. Her solution: “Make (the homeless) do something to get shelter and food.”

Others in her group suggested education and training as solutions to what extent the United States should be involved in world peace, students again responded with varied convictions.

“If people were rounding your family up and extinguishing your people, you would expect a more powerful country to help you out,” said Clayton Scriver of Bonanza High School.

But David Zetoony of Cimarron-Memorial High School disagreed. “Unless people in Bosnia are willing to compromise, we can’t go there and force them to make peace.”

Students were divided on government programs that offer day care to teenage parents.

“Day care is one of the best opportunities,” said Trudy Chaney of Chaparral High School. “(A young mother) has a better chance of getting somewhere with her life.”

But Jim Cavin of Bonanza High School opposes the idea.

“It is is not my responsibility or ‘my parents’. And if you offer all these options, it creates less of a deterrent. They say ‘Ok, I will get pregnant. I can put my kid in day care’”

He said adoption might be a best option for pregnant girls.

Amber Carroll of Green Valley High School voiced her concern about the number of peers who are pregnant. “There used to be a stigma to being pregnant. Now its no big deal. I think it’s horrible that high school kids are happy that they are having kids.”

While students sounded off, adults listened intently and were impressed. Retired businesswoman Peggy Phillips has moderated SUN Youth Forum since their inception 39 years ago. The late SUN publisher Hank Greenspun initiated the forums as a way to bring youths together to talk about not only their present, but their future.

During her Law and Crime session break, Phillips said “This group is great. They are enthusiastic about their opinions, responding beautifully. There is good participation this year.”

She said that at one of the first forums, the biggest concern of the local youth was communication between high schools. This year, she noted the subjects of concern have change to guns and drugs.

“Every year they are different. There were years we were heartsick because of their attitudes and appearance. This year they are more serious. And they have a nice appearance. This to me is like a fountain of youth.”

Other moderators were equally enthusiastic. Dan Newburn, president of the Clark County School Board, has been a moderator since 1977. He has noticed a shift in how high school students think.

“We went for a time during the ’80s when they more conservative. Today there is more compassion and concern about AIDS and suicide.”

This was Robert Marshall’s 10th year as a moderator. He, too, has noticed that participants have become more opinionated and vocal. During the lunch break where all students gathered to rehash the morning’s discussions, Max Williams of Bonanza High School said he saw the event as a valuable experience. He hoped the rest of the media would pick it up.

“There should be an emphasis on those here who are achievers and not just the thugs,” he said.