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A Learning Experience

Charter high school allows students to also earn college credit

Friday night football games, dances and after-school activities are just some of the things Sierra Lee thought she’d miss when she left Coronado High School last year. She transferred to Nevada State High School, which allows juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn high school and college credit simultaneously.

“I really wanted to get a head start on college. I didn’t feel like I was being challenged,” Lee says. “But I also thought about staying at my old school. All of my friends were there, and I didn’t know anyone at Nevada State.”

She made the move and now is on track to not only graduate from high school in 2011, but also receive an associate’s degree. But it’s not without some drawbacks.

There are perks—“I don’t have to go to school from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day”—but also feelings of inadequacy, especially when it comes to attending real college classes with older students, she says.

“It’s been actually kind of weird. I feel so young or so inexperienced,” Lee says. “But that challenges me. I spend extra time so I can be on the same level as the other college students.”

Nevada State High School will graduate 100 students this year, compared with 11 students in its inaugural year of 2005. Lee says she understands she may be part of a minority of students who can handle the sort of schedule Nevada State requires.

Students begin by taking classes at the College of Southern Nevada or online with Great Basin Community College in Elko. After they’ve shown their discipline and grade-point average can hold up to the college level, students can attend classes at UNLV and Nevada State College, says John Hawk, executive director of Nevada State High School, located at 112 S. Water St. in downtown Henderson.

“You really have to be self-motivated. It’s you who is responsible for your education,” he says. “You’ve got to be responsible and be on top of things.”

Charter schools operate through a sponsor, such as the Clark County School District or the Nevada Department of Education, with more autonomy but the same federal guidelines as public schools, so there is no tuition.

There are 28 charter schools in Nevada, 13 in Clark County. Each one is different and chosen by families for different reasons, says Tom McCormack, charter school consultant for the Nevada Department of Education.

School districts have dual credit programs, such as the Community College High School, but Lee was drawn to the freedom, less demanding schedule and financial gain Nevada State High School offered her family.

The experience at charter schools such as Nevada State is what the individual student makes of it, Hawk says.

“The [high school] experience some kids may actually think they’re losing is an experience they’re gaining,” he says. “As of right now, they’re here because they embrace it. I don’t think grades have anything to do with it. We’re giving them a lot of freedom and flexibility, but we’re holding them responsible for their education.”

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Neon Green

Neon Green

When land and resource economist Josef Marlow was preparing a study about Las Vegas earlier this year, the title of his report, “Growth and Sustainability in the Las Vegas Valley,” had his colleagues in the Tucson, Ariz., office of the nonprofit Sonoran Institute shaking their heads. “People were asking whether it was an oxymoron,” he says. It’s a fair question, even for those of us who live here. His answer? “On the surface it looks like one of the most unsustainable places on the planet. But there’s a lot of stuff under the surface.”



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