Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007 | 2 a.m.
Should the gaming industry have to pay higher taxes to raise funding for schools? How is Southern Nevada managing growth? And do you think Las Vegas would benefit from a major league sports team?
These are just a few of the questions debated by the best and the brightest of Southern Nevada’s high school students at the 2007 Sun Youth Forum. More than 950 students from 45 high schools took part in the forum, held Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
And many of their answers suggest that adults should stop worrying so much about the values and concerns of today’s youth. Judging by the high quality of the debate and students’ thoughtful responses, it appears that our future may be in very good hands.
“People think we’re a bunch of gangbangers,” said Canyon Springs High School student Joseph Dimitrov, who believes the forum provides him and his classmates the opportunity to prove their mettle. “You can see that we’re not. We are intellectual, and we know what we’re talking about.”
On the Nevada Education Association’s proposal to increase taxes on the gaming industry as a way of raising funding for schools, Kristen Arn, a senior at Green Valley High, said, “a lot of gaming companies came to Nevada because of the lower taxes The more fair thing to do would be to have a corporate income tax for all businesses across the board, and not just target casinos.”
On the other hand, “casinos make a lot of money off of people. They should do more for the community. Helping the schools is one way for them to do that,” said Keenen Shumpert, senior Western High School. Late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun imagined the Sun Youth Forum in 1955, and the first group of students gathered the following year. Adults weren’t doing enough listening, Greenspun said, and too many young voices were going unheard.
The purpose of the event is to give students an opportunity to express opinions on the issues of the day, and on Tuesday, “they certainly did that,” said Brian Cram, director of the Greenspun Family Foundation and the Sun Youth Forum and former superintendent of the Clark County School District.
The event, Cram said, serves as a yearly tribute to its founder, who believed in the right of children “to openly, honestly and freely express their opinions.”
Greenspun’s son Brian was an early youth forum participant and today is president and editor of the Sun. Along with his brother, Daniel, chairman of the Greenspun Media Group, they served as moderators at Tuesday’s event. Other moderators were drawn from nearly every facet of the community, including School Board members, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
“The students are not shy about expressing their opinions,” said Berkley, who participated in the event in 1967 and 1968. “I’m always inspired by these kids and the lively discussions.”
Over the course of the day the debate often grew heated — but civility still reigned.
In an argument over how Southern Nevada is managing its growth, the anti-development forces came out swinging.
“Red Rock was a beautiful area where you could get away from everything” said Rene Sanchez, a senior at Durango High. “Now you go out there and see a bunch of houses. We have to protect those places.”
While Sanchez was on the side of the flora, Casee Clark, a senior at Basic High School fought for the fauna. “I can’t count how many dogs have been killed by coyotes in my neighborhood. We have to stop building on top of the wildlife. Let’s put more effort into renovating older neighborhoods and building downtown.”
The point of the forum is to get kids talking among themselves and to broaden their perspectives, Brian Greenspun said.
“This is an opportunity to talk and listen in a respectful manner,” he said. “Sometimes you even leave here with a new point of view.”
Since its inception, the forum has been in partnership with the Clark County School District. In 2004 the event was added to the district’s Excellence in Education Hall of Fame.
Valley High School teacher George Chamberlin said he was impressed by the level of discussion among this year’s participants.
Even when it wandered from the pressing international and national issues of our times — such as war, immigration and the environmental — to focus on a pressing local issue: sports.
And just in case you think all high school students are gung-ho for local a sports team, think again.
Although Gershon Levy, as senior at Meadows School said a major league team “would help with community pride and unify us,” Sadie Rosenberg, a senior at Valley High School thought there were better uses for public money. “Why should we spend the money on that when there are so many other issues?” she said. “Solving problems with health care and education should come first.”
All of it seemed to make Chamberlin proud.
“There’s hope for the future — not just the Las Vegas Valley but for this generation of youth in general,” said Chamberlin, a Sun Youth Forum participant in 1982. “These kids are some of the shining stars.”