Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Shana Stott started to write a letter to each of the Eldorado High School basketball team’s seniors. Her eyes welled up with tears as she tried to explain why each was an important part of her life.
Stott, a teacher at the school, is usually front and center at all Eldorado events, but she had to miss the final home basketball game because it conflicted with one of her son's baseball games at UNLV. She was devastated.
Instead of being there to hug the players when they left the court on Senior Night, Stott would relay her feelings in a letter. She labored over the words, worried they wouldn’t be enough.
Many of the students from Eldorado come from broken homes and are rough around the edges. Stott doesn’t care about their backgrounds or struggles — if you are a Sundevil, you are family.
A 1988 graduate of Eldorado, she returned six years later to begin her teaching career. She’s never left, even though her daily commute home from the northeast Las Vegas school is up to an hour.
For the teens she mentors, especially the athletes, Stott is more than an educator — she’s a mom. If it weren’t for Stott passionately cheering from the bleachers, they’d have no one else at the game.
“Every game or activity, a kid needs someone there to support them,” she said. “That’s important.”
Stott is a finalist in the Unsung Hero category at tonight’s Sun Standout Awards, the Sun’s annual high school sports awards show at the South Point Showroom. The honor is for someone who works behind the scenes to ensure athletes maximize their high school experience.
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The first-period bell rings, and students quickly settle into their seats in Stott’s classroom. Before they learn, they have the option to eat and talk.
There’s a bag of sandwiches and a pantry with soup, snacks, fruit and more. If it weren’t for Stott, who spends her own money for the groceries, many would go without food. It’s impossible to learn when you are hungry.
For the past three years, Stott has headed a credit-retrieval program, where students get a second chance to make up classes failed during their initial years of high school to get back on track for graduation. For the most part, they are students that other teachers have given up on, including some who are returning to school from jail.
“Some of these kids haven’t made the best choices,” she said. “If you come into my class, we make a deal: If you screw up, you are done.”
Satonio Smith-Hightower came to Stott’s class in 2018 with only nine of the required 22.5 credits needed to graduate. Smith-Hightower thrived under Stott’s guidance and will graduate this month. Same for Rayjon White, who started the school year with fewer than 10 credits.
Stott works with about 70 students each school period, a group so large that the partition separating two classrooms had to be torn down to give her more space.
“She’s the best woman on the planet,” Smith-Hightower said. “She’s the only reason why I’m graduating.”
Some days, however, learning comes second.
There are days when having someone to talk to about life’s challenges is more important than school work. There are also days when a child arrives at school after working until the wee hours of the morning or watching younger siblings and needs words of encouragement to power through the day. Stott provides all that — and more.
She paid for three children to attend prom and another student to take a senior trip to Disneyland, an event she chaperoned. She was also the photographer for prom, providing digital pictures to the teens.
“She is more than a teacher. When a kid needs something, she is going to act,” said David Ostler, the Eldorado soccer coach and also an Eldorado alumnus. “These aren’t the best of the best kids. This is their last chance to graduate, and she gets the most out of them.”
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On the back wall of Stott’s classroom, there’s a large display of photos of former students, some dating to the 1990s. Stott never forgets a face, pointing to each picture and reciting the student’s name as if she’s looking through a family photo album.
Stott, without question, is the matriarch of the Eldorado family. She’s the cheerleader coach, student council adviser and even planned her graduating class’s 30th reunion. When a college coach comes to recruit an Eldorado athlete, Stott is usually part of the visit because she advises athletes on what they need to do to become eligible at the next level.
“Every day I leave here, I know I have made a difference in someone’s life,” Stott said.
Stott easily spends $100 on gas each week traveling to and from Eldorado. The food bill is nearly double that expense. But you will never hear her complain. She was uncomfortable that Ostler nominated her for the Sun Standout Award and needed encouragement to share her story.
Her outlook is refreshing: Being a teacher and mentor isn’t a job; it’s a way of life. The students are more than names on the attendance sheet. She watches over them as if they were her own.
“She’s always there to help,” White said. “It makes you smile knowing someone cares that much about you graduating.”
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Stott has three biological children and is equally passionate about attending their events. Son Bryson plays baseball at UNLV and her daughter, Breauna, is a UNLV cheerleader. Her oldest son, Brennen, played high school football and baseball.
She can count on one hand how many of their games or events she’s missed over the years.
When Breauna’s high school graduation last spring conflicted with Eldorado’s, she encouraged her mom to arrive late to her graduation, knowing the students at Eldorado also needed their “mom” to attend.
“She just really cares,” Breauna said. “My brothers and I know we are sharing her with a bunch of other children.”
Stott said she wouldn’t be able to be such an effective educator if it weren't for the support of her family. She has turned down positions at schools closer to where she lives, with her family’s blessing. And, of course, because Eldorado is home.