Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Home News
Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 | midnight
Students from Henderson took advantage of the annual Sun Youth Forum to weigh in on the potential budget cuts in the Clark County School District, which could amount to $120 million per year cut from the budget for 2009-2011.
Block scheduling, an area that could be cut, and its $11 million expense was a hot topic of the day.
The students had the opportunity to voice their opinions thanks to the forum, an all-day event that began more than 50 years ago. Las Vegas Sun founder Hank Greenspun came up with the idea for the Youth Forum in 1955, providing an opportunity to teens from Clark County high schools to discuss what can be controversial issues. This year, 49 schools were involved.
Besides the Sun, the Greenspuns publish the Home News and other publications.
Some students who gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center Nov. 25 were nearly falling off their chairs, waving their hands and biting their lips as they waited to be called on.
Block scheduling allows students to take up to eight classes, as opposed to just six. Half are taken every other day, and the class periods are longer to make up for the difference.
Many students were able to provide examples of their teachers claiming to wish they either did or didn't have block scheduling.
"The grass is always greener," said Andrea Larsen of Del Sol High School, which has block scheduling. "Teachers tend to want what they don't have."
Additionally, students said the classes may be a benefit or a detriment depending on how motivated each student is. It could provide an extra day of studying between classes, or it could provide an easy excuse to slack off, they said.
"I'm not even on block scheduling, and I procrastinate all the time," said Gabby Sinagra of Silverado High School, which does not have block scheduling. "It's easy to put off."
Students discussed every topic with the same fervor. The proficiency tests also drew some heated discussion.
Some students said they knew of people with nearly perfect grades who were in danger of not graduating, because they couldn't pass one of the proficiency exams.
"Grades are supposed to show what you've learned," Jared Fowkes, student body president at Foothill High School, said. "Obviously if you have straight A's and can't pass the proficiency, something's wrong."
Part of the problem may be attendance, some students said. Schools are trying out different policies to encourage students to be in class and on time, such as forcing parents to sign in a student who was late the morning before.
"They're trying to fix the attendance policy, but they're going about it the wrong way," Josh Rivera of Canyon Springs High School said.
The requirement to have parents sign in late students, for example, encouraged students to just skip the entire period, because the penalties were less harsh that way.
For the students with chronic truancies, however, students thought it was about time their peers answered up.
"Shouldn't there be harsher punishment because they're wasting our time and money?" Nick Rattigan of Green Valley High School said. "They're wasting the teachers' time."
Students who had attended the forum before, as well as moderators, said this year was better than most. The students were more informed and ready to debate this year, they said.
"They represent a point of view I've never seen in 10 years of doing this," Robert McCord, assistant professor of educational leadership at UNLV, said.
As each discussion came to an end, students chose a representative from their group to discuss the issues touched on throughout the day. Those representatives will write a column for "Where I Stand" in the Las Vegas Sun or the student publication CLASS!, or they will appear on discussion panels. Of the 21 students chosen, six attend Henderson high schools.
Scholarships were also given to 10 high school seniors chosen at random, including Amanda May and Blair Ritchie, both of Foothill.
Frances Vanderploeg can be reached at 990-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.