Las Vegas Sun

April 16, 2014

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CLASS MAGAZINE:

Teenage expressions

More than 950 students from 45 high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 52nd annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 20. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A spokesperson was chosen from each group to write for Class Magazine about the students' findings.

Few times throughout our high school careers do the best of the best get together to discuss key issues, especially the issues that affect students on a daily basis. That's the opportunity that the Sun youth Forum has given students for more than 20 years -- the chance to come together of one accord to teach and learn from on another.

Perhaps the most debated topic discussed among students, parents and faculty right now is the direction our school system is going. With more and more students unable to pass and only doing enough work to get by, we have to ask what shape out current school system is in. no one wants the government to come in and take over the schools; that would put teachers and faculty on a more "structured schedule." But since no one wants this to happen, what is being done to raise our standards?

The purpose of the group "School Days" was to take random students from around the valley who come from various walks of life and see how they feel about the current school system. Many issues fall into this category: block scheduling, the No Child Left Behind Act and school nutrition. From the start the discussion was intense with not a second wasted.

The first broad issue discussed was testing; this seemed to be the topic everyone was eager to take part in. The question was this: is standardized testing important? Although one might think most students would say, "let's remove them all," at times the debate came to a stalemate. We agreed that standardized testing was a good way to regulate how schools were doing academically. We did not agree that the proficiency should stop one from earning a high school diploma.

The proficiency was a hard topic for the simple fact that kids who've worked to get all their credits are denied the right to graduate. At the same time, one needs to demonstrate the necessary skills to handle real-world problems.

Preparation for the test seems to be what students are denied the most, and what ought to be provided by their teachers. Whether the reason it isn't is due to classroom control issues or not being able to reach the students, we couldn't be sure. At the same time, from the day students step into high school they know what's required. Counselors explained the amount of credits they need and the test they're required to pass. So how do they prepare themselves if the teachers are unavailable? We agreed that opportunities are there for everyone; it's up to the individual to use them.

Self motivation and having parents there to help along the way came up many times. One's home life directly affects how one does in school. Students have problems when the get into higher-level classes and their parents can't help them with the work. Sometimes parents are not even involved in their child's studies at all, unaware of just what happens when he or she goes to school. These students often have no support system to fall back on and no self motivation that drives them to achieve great things. It shows in their studies.

The next topic was school safety. We came to the conclusion that safety all depends on the area your school is located in. A school like Arbor View High School, which is more in the suburbs, has a higher safety rating. A school like Canyon Springs High School may have the label of being a "ghetto" school because it has experienced more gang violence.

How to solve this problem came down to a couple of solutions such as school getting metal detectors and more cameras. Although these may be affective, however, they don't always seem to be reasonable solutions. More restrictions make schools seem more like jails than safe learning environments.

We agreed that the policies we have at school work -- it's the matter of enforcing them that's the problem. Should the community play a larger role considering that most kids come from the surrounding area? If the community played a larger role in helping to keep things safe, we believe it would have a domino effect, stating in the homes and neighborhoods and continuing until everything is affected by the change, including schools.

It's also up to the students to help. We have classes everyday with students who are known troublemakers. Why don't we put pressure on them to do right? If the actions of one small group can have a negative change on school policy, imagine what the actions of the larger, positive student body could do. The point was made that students don't realize the amount of influence they have. If we stand together for a reasonable cause we can achieve anything. Our schools are what we make of them. We have to stand for what is right. Then and only then will our schools start to turn around and get back on the right track.

This experience at the Sun Youth Forum allowed us to express what we felt were key issues in our school district. It helped identify the problems but is to find a solution. But by the end of the day we were able to say that we helped make a difference, no matter how small or large. That's the sole purpose of the forum: to help kids help themselves.

Lee is a senior at Bonanza High School whose group covered the topic of School Days