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February 27, 2015

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School District seeks volunteers to mentor at-risk seniors

Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce steps up to help


Paul Takahashi

Western High School Graduate Advocate Coordinator Daniel Topete, Western senior Evaleen Diaz and Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristin McMillan share a laugh at Western on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Public support is being sought for a mentoring program to help students at risk of dropping out.

Want to volunteer? Here's how:

Volunteers should be at least 25 years old to become a mentor. Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis.

Interested community members must fill out an application, participate in a personal interview and will be subject to a background check (subsidized by $100,000 from United Way of Southern Nevada).

Volunteers would mentor students during the school day, on the school campus, for one hour each week. They also must participate in an orientation session to learn tips and strategies for successful mentoring. Mentors also will complete a year-end evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the project.

Interested residents may contact the project manager for more information at 702-799-6560 or visit

The next training session for interested adults will be between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, 6671 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Suite 300 (in Town Square).

300 volunteers turn out to urge dropouts to ‘Reclaim Your Future’

The signature element of “Reclaim Your Future” is two community walks conducted in September and January, when volunteers visited the homes of dropout students and encouraged them to return to school.

During the second “Reclaim Your Future” walk Saturday, about 350 educators, public officials and community members made personal visits to 346 homes of students who dropped out within the first semester of school.

Volunteers spent the morning talking with 148 juniors and seniors from the 10 target high schools. They received commitments from 56 students who promised to return to class. Informational cards were left behind at homes where no one was home.

During the first “Reclaim Your Future” walk in September, about 300 volunteers made personal visits to some 300 homes of students who didn’t show up for school after the summer vacation.

The second round of home visits targeted mostly students with excessive absences as opposed to students who didn’t show up to school at all, according to School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson.

About 70 students had relapsed between the first and second “Reclaim Your Future” events.”

Last month, when Evaleen Diaz found out she was pregnant, it became one more obstacle of many toward her goal of graduating in June with the rest of her Western High School class.

The 17-year-old senior is short on class credits and needs to pass three more proficiency exams before she can walk across the stage to receive her high school diploma. Now, Diaz is three months pregnant, complicating her plans to make up credits and cram for the state-mandated exit exams.

The normally celebratory news of an expectant mother came as a surprise and a source of major disappointment for Diaz’s parents. Her father refused to look at her for days, Diaz said.

“They think I’m not going to graduate because I’m going to be a mom,” Diaz said, tears welling in her eyes. “It made me really sad. It hurts me, but I feel like I can prove them wrong.”

Diaz is one of more than 6,500 seniors still at risk of not getting a high school diploma this year, according to new graduation projections released Tuesday by the Clark County School District. Although that figure is still extraordinarily high, it’s an improvement from the more than 10,000 at-risk students identified at the start of the year, said Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones.

“Getting 3,500 seniors back on track to graduate, that’s tremendous,” Jones said during a news conference Tuesday at Western. “But we still have a significant number of students at risk. We still have plenty of work to do.”

To reach out to the remaining at-risk students, Jones is seeking volunteers from the Las Vegas community to mentor about 2,000 students at 10 of the School District’s worst performing schools. It’s all part of Jones’ plan to improve the School District’s graduation rate, among the lowest in the nation at 48 percent, according to Education Week.

While principals at all 49 valley high schools have prepared individualized plans to guide students toward graduation, the inaugural “Reclaim Your Future” graduation initiative focuses specifically on 10 high schools: Canyon Springs, Chaparral, Cimarron-Memorial, Desert Pines, Las Vegas, Legacy, Liberty, Mojave, Rancho and Western.

Each of these high schools recently was assigned a professional counselor who would check in with struggling seniors every two weeks to make sure they are on track to graduate. The $200,000 program is paid through a public-private partnership between the state-funded Workforce Connections and the nonprofit United Way of Southern Nevada, according to Cass Palmer, president of the local United Way chapter.

Daniel Topete is Western’s graduate advocate coordinator who has been working for the past month with students like Diaz. He and other coordinators provide counseling and advice on student resources, such as alternative high schools, credit retrieval, online courses and test-prep boot camps. While these specialized counselors are a boon to cash-strapped schools, mentors from the community can help fill in the gap between visits, officials said.

“We know that having a caring, responsible adult involved in the education of a student makes a big difference,” Jones said from a prepared statement. “Research and the success of similar programs across the nation show that it works.”

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is stepping up to the challenge by seeking volunteer mentors from among its 6,000 businesses and 240,000 members, said Kristin McMillan, president and CEO. The Chamber is specifically targeting 1,000 alumni from its Leadership Las Vegas program, a 10-month leadership-training course for local business executives, she said.

“Improving the graduation rate is not only going to critically help our kids but is essential for securing the growth of our business community and economy,” McMillan said.

Close to 300 people have requested applications so far, according to the School District. About 60 — including about 50 Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce members — are in the process of being interviewed and undergoing background checks.

Diaz, who dreams of going to college and becoming a physical therapist, said she feels having a mentor would help her juggle her schoolwork and the added challenges of motherhood.

“I feel like I am going to graduate,” she said, with a determined look.

“They’re going to help me graduate. They’re going to help me get somewhere.”

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  1. Sad commentary that we as a community are calling for volunteers for what in the past have been referred to as parents.

  2. Exactly Denali, but the last statement.."they are going to help me graduate, they're going to help me get some where" is just as sad of a commentary. This child is not the first and will not be the last, yet, we continue to reward the situation.

    I say take her over to the Ron Paul Campaign, make her work there, give her some credits for it, but maybe, just maybe she will get some much needed information concerning "self responsibility". What ever happened to the idea, "I did this, I am responsible, I must buckle down, get my diploma, and get to further education on my own."...society has paved the way for me and "I can do it."
    And, where is the father of this baby?????

  3. All it takes is the "want to." It is amazing that the one greatest and strongest thread to the chord in life, is the "want to." With the "want to" fire burning in the minds and hearts of these "at-risk" students, little can get into the way of their objective: to graduate high school and set course with a plan for life.

    There is no shortage of good hearted people here in the Las Vegas Valley, who are capable and able to assist these youth. The real work is being done by the student, who, by virtue of becoming involved in this program, demonstrate that they are motivated and willing to do what it takes to graduate.

    No one can do the learning for them. No one can take the HSPE for them. So the role of "mentor" is about being there for the student as support and encouragement. It takes courage for these youth to have a change in their mindset. For many of them, after years of repeated challenges and failures, they lose faith and confidence in their ability to be successful. Mentors are the kind souls who guides a being towards success, seeing that success, and celebrating it.

    We all can do something. Ask yourself today, "What part can I play to help another?" You just may be that person who makes a difference for another!

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Thanks Joe!

    And what happens to those who have not the "want to," or "the fire"? Because these are yet young, impressionable human beings, we must attempt to redirect them onto a path that bests meets their individual needs. This might be a safety net plan, that is a temporary goal or step. So it might take longer to secure that high school diploma or GED, it only will take longer, it is still possible, still within reach. And we need Mentors for such individuals as well.

    It does not serve our society well if we "give up" on each other. To secure a strong, vibrant, cohesive nation, we must be dedicated towards an informed and educated citizenry. As they say, "Charity begins at home," and we need to support people in our own country towards being the best they can possibly be in this life, reaching their highest potential.

    Blessings and Peace,