Las Vegas Sun

April 16, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Kids debate hot topics

They came to say their piece and students at the 41st annual SUN Youth Forum didn’t go away disappointed.

About 850 Clark County high school students converged on the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday for a day-long forum on topics ranging from drug testing to a nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

Debates on the issues presented to the students were animated and often heated.

Most of the students in a School Daze forum debating the pros and cons of drug testing agreed it should be instituted for student-athletes, citing that many high school athletes use steroids and it gives them an unfair advantage over drug-free athletes.

Jocelyn Tichenor, a 17-year-old junior at Cimarron-Memorial High School, argued that drug testing for all students could be a positive thing.

For those who test positive, she said, “Give them help now when they need it. Counsel them, nip it in the bud.”

One of the most heated debates for the group centered on day care centers on high school campuses.

Some students argued the school district doesn’t have the money for a day care center on each campus, and if the program was instituted, students would soon see cuts in other areas, perhaps textbooks.

But others argued that without day care centers, teenage mothers couldn’t afford to stay in school.

One student spoke from personal experience.

“I would not wish a baby on a teenager, but I would not give up mine for anything in the world,” she said.

“Sometimes when a baby is crying, all it needs is to be held for five minutes.” She argued that if there were a day care center on her school campus, “I could go and hold my baby for five minutes, then I wouldn’t have to miss a day of school” to go to the private day care center to soothe her baby.

Joshua Ybarra, a 16-year-old junior at Clark High School, spent the day in a session called Potpourri, where he said the hottest topic was affirmative action.

“This was a very emotional topic,” Ybarra said. “It deals with how you’re brought up; affirmative action comes from a generation that was before us.”

He said the consensus in his group was that “there’s still room for affirmative action now, but in the future it can be abolished.”

Seventeen-year-old Phyllis Donohue, a senior at the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies and Performing Arts, sat in on the same forum.

“The opinions were mixed,” Donohue said. “Some people don’t really know why we need affirmative action. It’s going to have to be gotten rid of sometime. It’s going to take time to get rid of it, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Donahue said she was frustrated by the lack of tolerance she encountered throughout the day in conversations about alternative lifestyles.

She hoped having the opportunity to express her views would make other students “go home and think about it. I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion about things, but I just hope they’ll have a little more tolerance and be more open.”

Sex was a topic debated in several forums.

Abstinence was discussed in the Teen Topics forum that 16-year-old Verdawn Hunt, a junior at Silverado High School, sat in on.

“A lot of the kids thought that it was OK to have sex before marriage,” she said. “I disagree with the majority, I choose abstinence.

“Students should be practicing abstinence. If you’re going to take on the responsibility of sex, you have to take on the responsibilities and risks of having a child. You need to be able to take care of that child” and high school students, she said, aren’t in the position of being able to care for a child.

“Then there’s STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and AIDS. Nothing is 100 percent except abstinence.”

Students in a Law and Crime forum took votes on issues ranging from legalizing drugs to banning alcohol and cigarettes.

Of the 48 students in the group, 38 favored legalizing drugs.

The group also debated instituting a tax on legal drugs, much like the ones now placed on cigarettes and alcohol. The consensus: More money would be spent on rehab and funerals than would be collected on the tax.

Ten students in the group thought alcohol should be banned and 22 supported banning cigarettes.

In another forum titled Around the World, a group of eight students, four in favor of abstinence and four against, faced off in the middle of the room while others listened. Arguments centered on conservative moral values vs. personal choice.

Kelly Wippel, a 17-year-old senior at Bonanza High School, walked out of the group’s discussion on America’s position in world affairs.

“People in there are so selfish, they just don’t understand the world,” Wippel said. “They want to cut off aid to Third World countries. They said, ‘It’s not our business.’

“But there are these poor, starving children with huge, swollen bellies. They have no idea what it’s like to be hungry. It’s so wrong to be so selfish. They’ve never gone a day in their lives starving. I haven’t either, but … the fact that they want to cut (aid) off makes me angry. I am so lucky to live in this country, I don’t have to worry about my next meal.”

A surprising turn of events was student support for a nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

Misti Rice, a senior at Boulder City High School, said the consensus in her Home in Nevada forum was that “nuclear waste has to be stored somewhere and Nevada is the best place” because of the sparsely populated areas in the state.

“We might as well have it here because this is the best place for it,” the 18-year-old said. “The community can make a lot money and profit from it.”

The seven panels, each of which were broken up into two tracks with about 60 students in each group, were moderated by community leaders.

Panels and their moderators were: Law and Crime — Sheriff Jerry Keller and Tom Biggar, Clark County discovery commissioner; School Daze — Jan Allen, a homemaker, and Danny Greenspun, vice president of the Las Vegas SUN; Around the World — Channel 8 news anchor Gary Waddell and Christian Kolberg, promotions director for the Las Vegas Review-Journal; Teen Topics — Judge Philip Pro and Steve Schorr of Prime Cable; Home in Nevada — Assemblyman Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas, and Dan Newburn, former Clark County School Board president; America — Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Robert Marshall of Sprint; and Potpourri — Jim McGlasson, general manager of ShowBiz magazine, and attorney Jeff Eskin.

Members of the Junior League Sustainers registered the student participants. They included chairwoman Jan Allen, Madeliene Andress, Donna Andress, Mary Laub, Peggy Cladouhos, Romietta Hawkins, B.J. Stevenson, Sustainers president DeDe Nave and Suzanne Van Aken.

Ruthe Deskin, assistant to the publisher of the Las Vegas SUN, is director of the Youth Forum, and Cindy Robinette is assistant director. Dr. Harold Boyce, in charge of student activities for the school district, was the school district coordinator, and Kim Dlouhy, customer service manager for the Las Vegas Convention Center, also assisted with the forum.