Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2021

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Organization helps mentor Las Vegas students in quest to attend college

Leadership in Training

Steve Marcus

Leaders in Training (LIT) founder and executive director Erica Mosca helps Rafael Torres of Shadow Ridge High School find college information during a session for high school juniors at the LIT offices Thursday, April 5, 2018. The nonprofit organization helps students become leaders and further their education by removing barriers to college.

Backpacks decorate the floors, laptops are propped open and pictures of Las Vegans celebrating milestones like graduating college adorn the walls. It’s not quite a classroom, not quite an after-school clubhouse, but somewhere in between, and it’s filled with more 20 high school students from across the valley who are participating in the non-profit, Leaders In Training.

Many of the students will be the first in their family to attend college. Some are undocumented immigrants who work full-time in the service industry to pay for college. All have something in common: Before they joined Leaders in Training, they didn’t have someone to consistently talk with them about the benefits of attending college.

Erica Mosca, the group’s founder and executive director, started the program in 2012 after she noticed a gap in achievement for students who face socio-economic and cultural barriers. Her intention was to help those students apply for and get through college so they could become the community’s leaders of tomorrow.

Mosca was a fifth-grade teacher in the Clark County School District before leaving to earn two master’s degrees. Throughout her own pursuit of higher education, she still kept in touch with her students who had advanced to high school.

She soon realized those students had a higher chance of dropping out of high school than attending college. Barriers like poverty, lack of mentors and access to college prep at schools, were preventing them from reaching their full potential, she felt.

In 2012, Mosca started the non-profit at the old elementary school she taught at with 20 students from her former class. Six years later it has three different locations with more 140 local students participating.

Of the 80 students the nonprofit worked with from 2012-17, all were accepted into a four-year college, according to the organization's website. None of the students dropped out of college, it says.

Mosca’s own story inspired her to start the nonprofit. She was the first in her family to attend college and went to Boston University for her undergraduate.

“For me, my whole life everyone just said go to school and go to college and that’s what I did. My parents would say we lived this life because we didn’t go to school and then I felt like my whole life was a lie once I got there and met kids who owned islands or traveled,” Mosca said. “I thought that I was smart and I wasn’t, and it wasn’t that they were smart either. It was just that they had every opportunity to build their resume and build themselves up.”

The nonprofit’s goal is to increase college access and attainment, critical conscious development, leadership development for students to “empower diverse leaders qualified and prepared to change the world” according to its website.

Students start as high school freshmen and participate in the program until after they graduate from college. The program is broken down into three segments: the high school program, the college program, and the alumni program.

High school students are broken into cohorts based on age brackets, and Mosca helps guide them through the different steps of college prep like preparing a college application, studying for SATs and ACTs, participating in extracurricular activities, and community service.

Students are supported throughout high school and college until they graduate.

“They’re not only equipped to go to college and graduated, but they get why they’re there—to be the change makers,” Mosca said. “We’re not only closing the equity achievement gap, but we’re closing the lack of diverse leadership in the boardroom, in the classrooms, in the legislature.”

Rafael Torres, 16, a student at Shadow Ridge High School, plans to be the first in his family to attend college. He credits the program, which he joined last year, for helping him stay on track.

“My parents, support-wise, they’re there for me, but they don’t know what they’re doing,” Torres said. “They know that I have to [be my own] guide and create my own path and make the right decisions to go where I need to be and they want the best for me. With Ms. Mosca and Leaders In Training, it allows for me to know the path.”

The students will spend the summer working on specific goals, whether that’s volunteering in the community, prepping to take the SATs or the ACTs, researching different colleges and scholarships.

But wherever they attend, students like Mojave High's Marcus Banks or Torres will come back to their community and pave the path for students just like them.

“I plan on coming back to Ms. Mosca and LIT [Leaders In Training] and her with the kids she has then and help them,” said Banks, 16.