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September 30, 2014

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The Turnaround:

Will they walk?

Inside one of CCSD’s most troubled high schools, 10 seniors look toward May

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Leila Navidi

Once I became a mother, I knew I had to graduate from high school,” says 18-year-old Brandi Harris.

Chaparral High School has one of the lowest graduation rates in the Clark County School District, a system that itself has a graduation rate among the worst in the country.

The 38-year-old high school, which sits along U.S. 95 near East Flamingo Road, was once an academic and extracurricular leader in the Las Vegas Valley. But Chap — as past and present students refer to it — has been transformed by the demographic and socioeconomic changes that have altered many communities throughout the country, challenges that have been multiplied by the economic collapse.

This past year, just three of every 10 seniors at Chaparral received a diploma — a devastating figure that led to the hiring of a new principal and assistant principals, along with a 50 percent turnover rate among teachers and support staff. Still, most Chaparral students move through their daily schedules and look toward graduation. We spoke with 10 seniors about their goals for the school year and their plans for the future.

    • AnitaSroya
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Anita Sroya, 17

      I just want to be successful in all I do this year. I want to get all of my credits. I want to go to all of my classes and work hard. I have a brother who goes here. He’s a freshman, and I want to set a good example for him. I want to go to college at USC, UCLA. I’d like to get a job to make some money, but my dad doesn’t want me to work. He just wants me to go to school.

      Maybe I’ll have to start out at a community college. There are many things that I want to do in life. I think of being a police officer, a firefighter. I want to help people.

    • Anthony Sipes
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Anthony Sipes, 17

      I want to learn more than last year, when kids could pretty much do what they wanted. Some teachers cared. Most didn’t care. They only helped kids that wanted to be here. This year, I believe, they’re going to be good for all of the school, all of the students.

      I want to start at CSN and then go to college in Missouri — St. Louis or Northwest Missouri State. It’s quiet there. I’ve always liked Midwest living; it’s slower, it’s more laid-back. You’re not always running around having to do something.

    • Brandi Harris
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Brandi Harris, 18

      I’ve always considered myself a dropout since my freshman year. I was never serious about school. I’d rather be the jokester and laugh a lot. The first time I dropped out I was 16. At that time I didn’t care. In elementary school I was actually an honors student; in middle school and high school I didn’t try as hard. I just felt like I was done and could move on.

      Once I became a mother I knew I had to graduate from high school. When I think of what I’ll do after May, I think of my son. I want my baby to look at me someday and think, “That’s my mom walking across the stage, and she graduated even though she had a baby.”

    • Crystal Carter
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Crystal Carter, 17

      Right now I don’t feel like I’m getting the education I need. They want to turn around the school. They want to help people who are struggling, but I want to be brought up to a higher level, too. I feel like I can be challenged, but they look at me and they think, “She’s already smart. She doesn’t need more help.” They don’t offer that many honors classes, but the ones they do are too full. My honors math class is 56 people or so, and it’s hard to get control of a class of 56 students.

      I want to be successful, happy. I want to be good in my community, a psychologist, a novelist. I don’t want to just take, take, take. I want to work for what I get.

    • GuadalupeEspinoza
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Guadalupe Espinoza, 17

      I would really like a job so that I could have money to go to college. It’s just hard sometimes. Only my dad works. My mom is at home raising two younger sisters. Dad works construction jobs.

      I want to be a pediatrician. I really like kids. Just the way they look at the world is so happy and innocent.

    • Jacob Wright
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Jacob Wright, 18

      Last year the rules were so lenient here that you could walk away from school during the school day in front of teachers and they wouldn’t do anything. Now I have to go to school 13 hours a day here and at night school to make up for lost credits. That’s my utmost dream, to walk across the stage. No one else in my family has graduated without a GED. Now I live with my older sister, and it’s become the thing to do. I have to graduate.

      After graduation I’m thinking of taking EMT classes. If that doesn’t work out, I was thinking of joining the Army to become a medic. I want to be a hero. Anybody who is willing to risk their life for another is a hero. I do not fear death that could come from military service. I just fear the pain of death and dying, the physical pain that comes with dying.

    • JessicaQuiroz
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Jessica Quiroz, 17

      I want to get a job, but it’s really hard because the economy is really low. Employers aren’t into us, because they don’t think we know anything. I’ve applied so many places for work: the Fashion Show, Burger King, McDonald’s, the Boulevard Mall. I never get any calls. If I don’t find work right now, I’m not going to have a job that says I’ve worked and know how to work.

      I hope that I can get a college scholarship, get a degree and be what I can be. I’m in ROTC, have a 3.9 GPA, and I hope I can get a scholarship and go to college.

    • JuanLopez
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Juan Lopez, 16

      I want to actually learn something this year. Most people just want to graduate, just want to get out of school. I want to learn the basics for life. You need to learn about government, literature, business.

      I want to go to college. I want to study hairstyling and help out my parents. They’re having a hard time in this economy. Five, six years ago my father was paid much higher, and we lived really well. I wanted to get a job this year so I could help now, but my dad wants me to focus on school. I didn’t really like that, but it’s my dad.

    • MelissaRuiz
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Melissa Ruiz, 17

      I want to get a job, and I also want the school to get back its artsy feeling. Before, we were able to put up posters to inform people about the Key Club, the Blood Drive, the Disney Club and Art Up. Now we can’t put up posters because of the new paint on the school’s walls. It makes it feel more empty. Students don’t feel as informed.

      First I’m going to go into nursing, and then I’m going to become an OB. I love the body, the woman’s body, how they’re able to develop and carry life. Plus, I’ll have a secure job.

    • OscarEstrada
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Oscar Estrada, 17

      I need math and science classes. In science I never got the teaching I needed. It was kind of hard, but I want to be a psychologist. I’ve always had people confide in me. You’ve got to do something you’re good at, something you enjoy.

      Maybe I’ll start college at CSN, then I’ll have to figure out where they offer psychology. I’m not the kind of kid who wants money to buy clothes and other things. I use money for investing in myself.

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    1. A lot better attitude from these 10 than the previous week with kids complaining that they can't use cell phones, and must be on time to class.
      I know the work environment is not good, but just help keep the halls, grounds and classrooms policed. It won't pay cash, but you will be noticed and when the economy gets better, you will be first on the list of thoughts.
      A year will pass a lot quicker than you know, and those coming are seemingly a lot faster. Just a note to one: My first class in college had several hundred students, a required freshman course, so call 56, preparation. Good luck with your year and preparation as fine young adults.

    2. I applaud the administration and the positive changes taking place at Chap. I will have kids attending this school for another 7 years and a positive learning environment is always welcome.

      However, I am really tired of hearing about those poor credit deficient seniors. If they are credit deficient, they made that choice through their actions and decisions. The past four years Chap has offered block scheduling which gave the students an opportunity to gain 8 credits a year. My daughter graduated with 13 credits more than the state required. In addition, last year they brought in an after school program that helped with credit retrieval. It cost $100 per 1/2 credit and the school paid for it. After the first semester the school stopped the program because the students were not finishing their classes and it was costing the school too much money.

      Also the school required all freshman to take two math classes and offered proficiency classes in reading, math and science to give additional assistance to those students who did not pass. The school is battling years of educational neglect. If you look at the AYP for all the middle schools that feed into Chap you will find that none of them have met AYP for a minimum of 6 years.

      I think the school district needs to start trying to fix the graduation mess years earlier while the kids are still learning the basics, not just adding extra classes and programs to catch them up after the fact.

      Good luck to all those students that are striving to graduate and make the most of their future.

    3. Taking that walk across the stage, getting that diploma, and congratulatory handshake is a very critical benchmark in a person's life. It acknowledges your childhood foundation being set, and your future success as a adult ahead. You take that walk of a lifetime. There are a few more ahead in the future.

      Are there missteps along the way? Most likely. But the path is clear. Don't allow mistakes to define you nor stop you. Learn from them and move forward on!

      Have a plan, make needed changes along the way, and go for your dreams. YOU can make it happen!
      Good Luck Seniors and all who pursue their dreams!