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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Mentors Improve Graduation in Las Vegas

In a place where dropouts earn $50,000 per year parking cars, Clark County, Nevada, schools keep students on the diploma track.

Narrator: Thanks to gaming and affordable housing, Las Vegas is still booming. But good news in the job market is bad news for the district's high-school dropout rate, one of the highest in the country.

Carlos: Las Vegas is different than anywhere I've ever been, because think about it, if you drop out of school here, people have jobs. And just think, you can earn between 40 to 80 thousand dollars parking cars here.

Okay, have a good night.

Carlos: So, you know, it's a very unique situation.

Narrator: To combat the high-school dropout problem, the district has organized an extensive network of community volunteers.

Man: What are they doing?

They're camping.

Man: They're camping.

Carlos: Everybody thinks that we're just this Disneyland that people come to and leave. No, we have over one-and-a-half million people in the Valley here. The community really is involved in the schools. The top CEOs come in and read to kids in our school district, mentor kids, and be good role models so that our kids feel that they're valued in our community.

Now, who helps you with your homework at home?

My calculator.

Your calculator. But does Mother help you?

Thomas: The more smart kids we have, the better our future will be. The more kids that are able to take care of themselves and provide for themselves, the better we're going to be. So I said, "Anyone who does not have a kid in the school, share. Just share what you have."

Narrator: While most dropouts occur in high school, the trouble usually begins in middle school, so the district's Stay in School Mentoring Project targets seventh-graders, like Chaniece.

Chaniece: We just talk about grades and stuff like that, how I'm feeling some days, and what I've been doing over the weekends and stuff like that.

Woman: So what else are you guys going to do after the concert?

Narrator: Volunteers like Mary Mitchell are trained by the district and committed to visiting their mentees at school once a week.

Mary: They may not even have a problem. They just need someone to just listen to them talk, you know, and actually hearing what they're saying.

Michael: What we tell the mentors is to do something with the student that you both enjoy doing, something that will facilitate conversation so that the mentor would have the opportunity to get a little better understanding of what might be going wrong with that child.

Chaniece: A or B?

Mary: Let's go with A.

Chaniece: Okay.

Mary: I got involved because I love kids, having children of my own, and it's just a joy. I do it for the pleasure of it. She loves music, and I think she's going to go far with it, but she says she wants to be an attorney. And I think whatever Chaniece sets her mind to do, I think she'll do it, you know, because she's very determined.

Chaniece: On the instrument, this is what you call a scroll.

Man: If I asked you, "What is 13 times 5," can you tell me?

Carlos: The good news is the other day the headline said that we've decreased our dropout rate, and we're really excited about the fact that the community has rallied to say, "You know, the most important thing are our children."

Man: 10 plus one more.

Boy: Is 11.

Man: Exactly. So we're going to write 11 down.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Roberta Furger
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Jeremy Settles


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • The KLVX Communications Group
  • Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
Editor's note: Carlos Garcia moved on from the Clark County School District in 2005 to become superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is now retired.

Learn more about Clark County's Stay in School Mentoring Project.

View all our videos about Las Vegas:

Betting on Change: Growing Pains in Nevada's Boomtown
Las Vegas's booming economy challenges the area's schools.

Mentors Improve Graduation in Las Vegas
In a place where dropouts earn $50,000 per year parking cars, Clark County, Nevada, schools keep students on the diploma track.

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