Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

Currently: 68° — Complete forecast

Teens tackle the issues

Nearly 1,000 students from 50 high schools gather for 53rd annual Sun Youth Forum


Steve Marcus

Vanessa Trujillo of Mojave High School debates another student during the Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009.

Updated Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 | 10:20 a.m.

Sun Youth Forum

Hundreds of local high school students gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday for the annual Sun Youth Forum. For several hours, students engaged in debates and discussions with each other on numerous topics about local and world affairs. Student discussions were led by moderators who are leaders in the community.

2009 Sun Youth Forum

A student records video of lunchtime entertainment with her iPhone during the Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009. Launch slideshow »


At the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum, nine students were selected at random to each receive $1,000 scholarships:

  • Vanessa Cohen, Eldorado High School
  • Karen Gabitanan, Rancho High School *
  • Jill Golding, Silverado High School
  • Trevor Griffin, Virgin Valley High School **
  • Francisco Guzman, Valley High School ***
  • Sontana Intraweat, Sierra Vista High School
  • Tiffany Samia, Las Vegas High School
  • Sarah Smith, Centennial High School
  • Dominic Tyler, Mojave High School

* Scholarship donated by UNLV President Neal Smatresk and totals $4,000 over four years at the university.

** Scholarship donated by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

*** Scholarship donated by state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.

The balance of the scholarships were donated by the Las Vegas Sun.

Group reps

At the Sun Youth Forum, students were selected by their peers to represent their various discussion groups in several media venues.

Writing for the Sun’s “Where I Stand” column:

  • Catherine Cabo, Shadow Ridge High School, School Days
  • Asher Divir-Djerassi, CSN High School-West, Around the World
  • Justin Gutzwa, The Meadows School, Teen Topics
  • Damond Kelly, Canyon Springs High School, America
  • Jessica Menchaca, A-Tech Academy, Potpourri
  • Sehoon (Peter) Park, Clark High School, Home in Nevada
  • Jasmine Sharma, The Meadows School, Law and Crime

Writing for School District student publication CLASS:

  • Monique Armstrong, Clark High School, Home in Nevada
  • Blake Bonvicin, Canyon Springs High School, Law and Crime
  • Jill Golding, Silverado High School, Teen Topics
  • Christine Ko, Green Valley High School, School Days
  • Gianni Sesto, Palo Verde High School, America
  • Zachary Stone, Foothill High School, Potpourri
  • David Youles, Palo Verde High School, Around the World

Appearing on a televised discussion panel for UNLV’s Hank Greenspun School of Communications:

  • Brook Crawford, Virgin Valley High School, Law and Crime
  • Tiffanee Cher Lang, A-Tech Academy, School Days
  • Nick Manfredi, Bishop Gorman High School, Teen Topics
  • Alexis Neel, Green Valley High School, America
  • Walter Pereira, Cimarron-Memorial High School, Around the World
  • Austin Prado, A-Tech Academy, Potpourri
  • Allison Reyes, Foothill High School, Home in Nevada

Appearing on a statewide radio show sponsored by the Nevada Broadcasters Association:

  • Christian Bertolaccini, Spring Valley High School, America
  • Daniel Coffey, Green Valley High School, Teen Topics
  • De’Ron Fantray, Desert Oasis High School, Potpourri
  • Jordan Martinez, Foothill High School, Home in Nevada
  • Marcela Rodriguez, Foothill High School, School Days
  • Christina Schaerer, Palo Verde High School, Law and Crime
  • Kevin Tamadonfar, Green Valley High School, Around the World

In 1955 then-Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun worried that adults weren’t doing enough listening and too many young voices were going unheard.

The following year, 96 students from Southern Nevada’s five high schools gathered for the inaugural Sun Youth Forum, which offered them a setting to have their say.

For the 53rd annual Sun Youth Forum, nearly 1,000 students from 50 high schools gathered Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. They made full use of the opportunity to tackle the issues of the day, including such statewide concerns as whether to legalize marijuana and how to diversify Nevada’s economy, and international concerns including nuclear proliferation and U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There are so many apathetic young people out there, but here everyone has an opinion, they really care about the issues and they’ve done their research,” said Kimber Bergo, a senior at Shadow Ridge High School. “That’s inspiring to me.”

Greenspun’s son Brian, who was an early youth forum participant and today is president and editor of the Sun, said, “The best day I have each year is the day of the youth forum, because I am renewed in my belief that tomorrow is going to be OK.”

Greenspun, who served as a moderator at Tuesday’s forum, said this year’s students “were more thoughtful, more knowledgeable, and more respectful than any other year I can remember, and that bodes well for the future.”

Other moderators, drawn from throughout the community, included U.S. District Judge Philip Pro, Clark County District Attorney David Roger, UNLV professors, lawmakers, business leaders and Clark County School Board members.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who participated in the Sun Youth Forum in 1967-68 while attending Valley High School, wasted no time, plunging her students into one of the more challenging issues facing America’s leaders and international relations experts: how to contain Iran’s fledgling nuclear program.

Economic sanctions are the most effective way to respond, said Max Goldman, a junior at Desert Oasis High School.

“The only way they can fund their nuclear program is to trade with other nations,” Goldman said. “If we shut that down, we can prevent them from going forward.”

That might be a good first step, said Ian Fluellen, a senior at Las Vegas Academy, but America needs to be prepared to back up economic sanctions with the threat of a military intervention.

Trevor Griffin, a senior at Virgin Valley High School, disagreed. America can’t afford to strike every nation that threatens to develop nuclear capabilities, Griffin said. And Iran lacks the infrastructure to launch an attack on the United States, he added.

What about Israel? Berkley asked. Does the United States bear responsibility to help protect a friendly nation and important ally that is potentially in range of an Iranian nuclear weapon?

“We don’t have to go in (to Iran) and establish a democracy, which costs a lot of money,” said Trice Butler, a senior at Legacy High School. “We just have to make sure they follow the rules of the United Nations. We’re the big guy — all of the other countries are looking to us.”

So, asked Berkley, “are we the policemen of the world?”

After pausing to consider the question, Butler answered: “When it comes down to it, we really are.”

Down the hall, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford’s group of students was debating how to fix the state’s struggling economy.

The way to help the state is to cut taxes and encourage more businesses to come to Nevada, said Katie McNearney, a senior at Durango High School. That, in turn, will mean more revenue for public education, she said.

“Before we can help the schools, we have to help the state,” McNearney said.

Nevada already has low taxes when compared with other states, said Edward Bylina, a Green Valley High School senior who said his family moved from San Diego in part because of the more favorable economic climate at the time. The solution isn’t lower taxes but providing incentives for diversified businesses that offer opportunities for jobs, such as solar energy.

“We need to make Nevada a powerhouse for something besides tourism,” Bylina said.

When Horsford asked how many people believe Nevada is too dependent on revenue from tourism to cover its basic budget, nearly all of the 30 students raised their hands.

And when tourism and gaming revenues are down, Horsford asked, “do you support putting more responsibility on Nevadans to meet our own needs?”

There was far less enthusiasm.

“I saw a lot more hands going up for relying on the tourists,” noted Horsford, a 1990 Sun Youth Forum participant.

Ariessa Givehand, a senior at Western High School, said she’s in favor of a state lottery to help pay for public education. That’s the bill draft request the Nevada Youth Legislature, of which she is a member, intends to submit for consideration in 2011.

“So many people go to the border states to buy their (lottery) tickets,” Givehand said. “Why not just sell our own and keep the money here?”

How to improve public education was a central theme for students in the discussion group moderated by Craig Kadlub, chief of staff of Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes. Students largely supported a move toward national standards rather than having academic expectations vary widely from state to state. Several members of the group said they didn’t believe the nation’s public school system was in need of an overhaul. The bigger problem, they said: Americans don’t place the proper value on education.

For Vanessa Heard, a senior at Southeast Career and Technical Academy, Tuesday’s discussion was a chance to hear from her peers on topics she often thinks about, but don’t usually come up in conversation with her friends.

It would be great, Heard said, if the high schools each had a class set up similarly to the Sun Youth Forum.

“I see where other people are coming from and how they come up with their opinions,” Heard said. “It’s really informative.”

Kadlub said he appreciated the Sun Youth Forum focusing on the “best and the brightest” of the School District — a longtime partner in the event — who don’t get enough of the spotlight.

“These kids are a pleasant reminder that there are some brilliant young minds out there,” Kadlub said.

Participating in her first forum, state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, said she was impressed not only with the quality of the students’ arguments but their delivery, as well.

“Even though they have different opinions, they are very respectful,” Woodhouse said. “Some of us adults could take a lesson from them.”

Does she mean adults in the state Legislature?

“Let’s just say adults in general,” Woodhouse said with a laugh.

Paula Woods, who teaches U.S. history at Desert Oasis High School, made her first trip back to the Sun Youth Forum since her own participation as a representative from Valley High School in 1988. At that time, Valley was “fairly homogeneous,” Woods said, and it was valuable for her to hear ideas from students from across the Las Vegas Valley who brought different backgrounds and experiences to the day’s discussions.

Fellow Desert Oasis teacher Jerome Streets said he hoped his students realized what it meant that civic leaders took the time out of their busy schedules to participate in the event.

“I hope it inspires my students to get more involved in the community,” said Streets, who teaches U.S. history and government. “We could certainly use more of that spirit in this town.”

Now in his 13th year of teaching and ninth year participating in the Sun Youth Forum, Streets said his favorite part of the event is the bus ride back to school.

“On the ride here, it is all talk about their cliques at school,” Streets said. “Going back, you get to hear all the incredible ideas they’re now thinking about. There’s a whole new world that’s opened up to them.”

This story has been updated to correct identification of Joyce Woodhouse.