Las Vegas Sun

December 5, 2019

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Students at forum tackle climate change, gun control and school funding

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Steve Marcus

Jeanette Fine, center, of Canyon Springs High School, reacts to a comment on the Clark County School District dress code by Caitlin Diehl, second left, of Western High School, during the 2019 Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Greta Peay, CEO/founder of Infinity: Diversity Matters, moderates at right.

About 1,000 Las Vegas-area high school students participated Wednesday in the 63rd annual Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum, an opportunity for juniors and seniors from across the valley to debate local, national and international issues and find solutions to world problems.

In partnership with the Clark County School District, the forum took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with representation from 52 schools.

Students were divided into small group sessions devoted to one of the following topics: America, School Days (education), Teen Topics, Around the World (international), Law and Crime, Home in Nevada and Potpourri (various issues). Topics discussed at this year’s forum included climate change, social media, gun violence and gun control, education funding in Nevada, drug abuse and addiction, deforestation, recycling, U.S. foreign intervention, racism, mental illness and more.

Guided by moderators ranging from local CEOs to media members to police officers to lawyers, students shared their opinions on the topics that interested them most, while showing respect for the opinions of others. At the end of the day, students from each small session selected one representative to report on their group discussion to local media outlets.

The following is a summary of select topics discussed:

National issues: Addressing climate change

Amy Greenspun-Arenson, senior vice president at Greenspun Media Group, started off her group discussion by asking students to rank which of 33 proposed topics most sparked their interest. One of the most popular topics was how to tackle climate change and environmental destruction.

Students mostly agreed about the need for Americans to address environmental issues, but differed when it came to the best path forward. Some students favored taxing plastic bags and other environmentally damaging items, while others said that polluting corporations should pay the most for the costs of climate change.

One student noted that the recycling system in the United States should be more productive and efficient, as it is in some other countries. Another student argued that the United States should hold developing countries like India and China accountable for their pollution, but some of his peers disagreed.

“It is going to also have to come down to (the United States), because we are home to some of the biggest corporations in the world, and corporations are ultimately the biggest polluters,” one student countered.

Nevada issues: Fixing education funding

Students in session with Brian Wall, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at the William S. Boyd School of Law, had much to say about the state of public education funding in Nevada months after the end of a historic state legislative session for public education. Most students agreed that Nevada public schools, especially CCSD, remain extremely underfunded and that this takes a toll on overworked and underpaid teachers as well as students who receive little individualized attention.

The diversity of schools represented in the room allowed students to discuss common issues affecting the entire school district and to note disparities among schools. For example, one student said he transferred from Basic High School to Foothill High School because of large class sizes at Basic, among other issues.

No students in the room were currently attending Basic High, perhaps suggesting that certain schools face more challenges than others, Wall commented.

“There are a lot of high schools entirely that seem to be getting left behind,” he said.

Although Nevada’s funding formula changed this legislative session and teachers received raises, those changes do not seem to have translated into benefits in the classrooms based on students’ comments.

Crime issues: Reducing gun violence

Jim Owens, chief of the Las Vegas Paiute Police Department, moderated a discussion on gun safety and gun violence at his forum on “Law and Crime.”

Students differed on the best way to reduce gun violence in America, with some saying that the federal government must pass universal background checks and others arguing that gun owners should be required to store firearms securely.

The conversation later veered toward the recent death in Dallas of 26-year-old accountant Jean Botham at the hands of former police officer Amber Guyger. Guyger entered Botham’s apartment, believing it to be her own, before shooting him fatally. She was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for murder. The case was tinged with accusations of racial bias, as Guyger is white and Botham was black.

Owens posed the question to students: Was the sentencing fair? Over half of the students, apparently well-versed in the timeline and details of the high-profile case and trial, said it wasn’t.

“The man was literally sitting there eating ice cream. And that comes up with the question of was it a race issue ... what if it was a white man?” one student said.

Teen issues: Treating drug addictions

Guided by moderator Rushia Brown, player programs and franchise development manager for the Las Vegas Aces, the teenagers had the opportunity to discuss and debate a hotly debated teen topic: vaping.

Rather than consider the issue in a vacuum, students connected it to the larger issue of drug addiction. Although vaping can be highly addictive, some people use it to get over other drug addictions, such as to cigarettes, one student said.

On the other hand, young people are subject to targeted advertisements for vapes, compounding the problem of addiction to the product, another student added.

Students generally agreed that all types of drug use, whether vaping or hard drugs or alcohol, should be treated holistically, taking into consideration the reasons why someone might decide to take drugs. For young people, parental influence, a desire to be “cool,” and mental health problems are often driving factors, students said.

“A lot of drug addiction, while definitely not all of it, comes from mental health issues,” one student said. “I think making health care a lot more accessible would be helpful, especially considering most kids I know don’t talk to their parents about their issues.”