New Las Vegas Program Aims to Improve Poorest Schools - 8 News NOW

New Las Vegas Program Aims to Improve Poorest Schools

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LAS VEGAS -- Poverty, crime and unemployment are just some of the barriers kids in inner-city schools face daily, while they try to get an education.

However, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman's pilot program called Downtown Achieves is working to transform 11 of the city's poorest underachieving schools.

One of those schools is Park Elementary School.

Juana Molina's 7-year-old son attends the school and she makes an effort, despite a full-time job, to volunteer.

"We cannot get them motivated to where they will be so excited with books and I'm talking about my son," Molina said, "I just want to be here to make sure that he is on top of things, and it is very hard."

Brian Knudsen is leading the project at Park Elementary.

"What Downtown Achieves aims to do is start something new, test it out, see if it works. If it works, replicate it in the other parts of the community. If it doesn't work, make changes," Knudsen said.

The program has brought together 200 community leaders from several agencies and organizations, including Clark County, the United Way of Southern Nevada and Three Square Food Bank.

The goal is not just to boost achievement but to improve lives by meeting basic needs.

"Children aren't doing well in school because their not attending. And why are they not attending? It is because they have lice and parents can't afford lice medication, or in their house they don't have electricity and they don't have access to food. They don't have running water," Knudsen said.

The schools targeted in the program have mostly minority students, who are on the free and reduced-cost lunch program. They also struggle in basic subjects like reading and math, but they also have a host of other needs.

"Many of the students' parents are worried about where they are going to get the food for the evening or the food for the weekend," Park Elementary School Principal Lorna James-Cervantez said.

Despite these obstacles, James-Cervantez says students are hungry for change and see school as a haven.

"The majority of our students, they look at school as the one constant in their life where they can come. They know it is going to be safe. They know they are going to be cared about. They know they are going to have the food that they need," James-Cervantez said.

However, at least one parent knows it is not just up to the teachers to help.

"There is always time. You just have to make time," Molina said.

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