The Sin City Most People Never See

Surrounding apartment buildings provide temporary housing to nearly 900 K-5 students and their families, on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis. Couch surfing is an everyday occurrence and families move fluidly between addresses, riding the highs and lows of their financial situation. By Clark County’s definition, not having a permanent address defines homelessness. However, this doesn’t account for hundreds of families and kids living in transient housing.

Until ASAS came to Petersen two years ago, these young students had nowhere to go after school. There is a Boys and Girls Club across the street, but these financially strapped families often can’t scrape together rent, let alone any “extras.” Even low-cost extras. There’s a park nearby, dotted with homeless encampments and drug pushers. It’s no place for a child to play.

For many students, there are unique cultural as well as financial challenges. Over half the kids in the school’s afterschool program are refugees. Notably, a Swahili translator was brought in to help connect with parents, but between language barriers and the ever-changing addresses and phone numbers, communicating pick-up times, field trips and program objectives with parents is an uphill battle. It’s not uncommon for staff to be waiting for one or two students to be picked up two hours after the after-school program closed.

From day one at Petersen Elementary School, there was a waitlist. 200 students immediately filled all openings. Teachers were hired to fill 100% of our program staffing roles, and from the counselor to administrative staff, the school community took a hands-on partnership role. Shortly after opening, the requests to expand started pouring in. In January 2018, ASAS Las Vegas doubled program the school’s capacity to serve a total of 430 students. There is still a waitlist.

Clark County School District is the 5th largest district in the country. Despite some high performing outliers and stellar educators (including Teacher of the Year recipients), CCSD often finds itself at the top of negative rating lists and the bottom of every positive rating list. Peterson, until recently, let students out at 3 pm. Nearby Orr Middle School students got out at 2 pm, and would head over to Petersen, ostensibly to pick up younger siblings, but frequently, causing trouble while they waited around.

Despite circumstances that feel Herculean, we see a positive impact, at Petersen, at ASAS program sites throughout the city, and in the district at large. Petersen and Orr recently aligned their school hours to mitigate the trouble that the bored middle schoolers were causing. To provide continuity and stability for students for whom instability is the norm, we opened a program at Orr in January 2018 to provide a safe and constructive environment for those students as well. The current superintendent is making progress. The district’s graduation rate rises to nearly 70% and has opened new magnet schools open to all Clark County students.

Most importantly, students, inspired by the opportunities they are exposed to through the program, have a vision for their future.

One student can’t wait to represent his ASAS robotics program at a national competition in Kentucky later this year. Two students, plan to be astrophysicists when they grow up. These students are reaching for the stars.