Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Where I Stand: Sun Youth Forum:

Students face adult issues at Youth Forum

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About 1,000 students from high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 56th annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 20. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A representative was chosen from each group to write a column about the students’ findings. Jarrett Greig of Advanced Technologies Academy writes about issues covered by his group, School Days.

Public policy regarding education is at the heart of the minds of every underage citizen of the United States, but participants in politics are about as far away from that demographic as possible. Through an extensive community effort with local high schools, the Las Vegas Sun gives the youths of Southern Nevada a voice in politics that directly affect them. The result? A youth forum where tomorrow’s leaders exchange ideas about the world we all share today. The passion of my peers for education was unsurprising, given the occasion.

Our first topic of extensive discussion was the current magnet school lottery system. For the uninitiated, when magnet schools admit students, students must first meet basic criteria — grades and attendance. Different schools might require auditions or teacher evaluations, but the final hurdle is a lottery — where chance could be the sole reason that an admission letter is never sent.

At the forum, some students mentioned freshman class sizes of over 400 students dropping down to barely 250 by senior year. We mostly attributed the decline in size to students who leave magnet schools to return to their zoned high school. In an attempt to solve the lottery and other problems, we agreed that the lottery system, however necessary in a district with more than 300,000 students, is flawed and specific criteria should be raised so that students expecting arduous work can be chosen for that magnet school.

Another question forced students to look away from themselves: What should be done to improve student performance and grades? Our group of 30 students attributed the shortcomings of our generation to a lack of communication with their teachers and counselors. Addressing this issue is difficult. If the schools provide the best counselors and resources, students might not take advantage of them anyway. Students from higher-performing schools mentioned mentoring programs, where upperclassmen visit freshman classes to talk about life in high school, offering support to a new generation of high school students just transitioning into an unfamiliar situation. While this was just one proposed solution, the consensus was that students, parents and administrators at schools should try for more communication between students and school officials.

As social networking takes the world by storm, more communication between teens is online. In investigations, school administrators can sometimes use electronic communications to indict students for punishable crimes — most often bullying. Students at the forum immediately called for free speech. Also in favor of student privacy was the argument that schools should not have the legality to view online profiles set to private. Ultimately, there was a general realization that in some cases of cyberbullying, online evidence might be all that exists of a case. A consensus was reached — our lives are going to be shaped by existing technology on an increasing scale. This issue can hardly be solved through public policy and should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

In conclusion, the Youth Forum was successful. It mobilized an already active collection of future leaders and attracted just as many new students to the political scene. The only regret of all parties involved is that the event lasted just a few hours. Now, we challenge our community leaders to heed our voices, make changes and solve the problems. We are frustrated with Nevada being No. 49 in education.

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