CampUs Las Vegas gives students taste of college

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UNLV’s campus has been overrun by a bunch of soon-to-be high schoolers.

They’ve invaded the dorms. The dining hall. They even organized a scavenger hunt in the alumni center, for goodness sakes.

“Ever since I was a kid, I knew I would go to college,” said Bria Nwagbo, 13, one of 50 kids staying on campus this week.

The point? To round up local students from what you might call dropout factories — but officials call at-risk schools — and show them how cool college can be.

“If someone believes in them, they’re going to work a little harder to stay on track,” said Erika Aguilar, program director with After-School All-Stars Las Vegas.

The project, called CampUs Las Vegas, began Monday and runs through Saturday. It joins UNLV’s Division of Educational Outreach and the After-School All-Stars.

It is in its first year locally. There was a pilot program in Southern California last year. This year, it expanded to eight cities. More than 400 teenagers are participating.

It is being paid for primarily through a $38,000 grant from the Nevada System of Higher Education.

The students will stay in the dorms for six days. They’ll hear presentations from professors and administrators, business people, and school district officials, including Superintendent Dwight Jones on Friday.

They’ll learn some of the basics, like why it’s important to study hard in high school if they expect to go on to college and do well. They’ll learn how to fill out college applications, and what it’s like to live on a college campus.

If a student is going to drop out of school, ninth grade is a likely year to do it. And some of the high schools represented have graduation rates barely topping 50 percent.

The After-School All-Stars Las Vegas program worked with local school district officials to pick students on the verge of ninth grade who they thought might benefit from a week on a college campus.

The after-school program has been around locally for 15 years. It’s in 15 elementary and middle schools, and focuses on giving kids something to do after school. Nearly 6,000 kids participate throughout the school district.

They get tutoring if they need it, and can have fun too. But, typically, the program is mostly dormant for the summer.

Jonathan Rizo, 14, said he went to the after-school program often. He heard about the CampUs event during a presentation.

There was talk that he would learn about what to expect in college, and how he could get there from Rancho High School, where he’ll start in the fall.

“That caught my attention,” he said.

He said he wouldn’t have much else to do during the summer otherwise, except “sit around the house.”

His mom confirmed that.

Beatrice Rizo has four kids, and Jonathan is the oldest. She said he’s a good kid, but he needs something productive to do over the summer.

“I don’t want my child to stay in the house all day watching TV, eating all the food,” she said.

Wilisha Daniels, UNLV’s youth program coordinator with the Division of Educational Outreach, said she was looking to expand the university’s youth outreach activities. She found out about the After-School All-Stars, and a partnership was born.

“It was just a natural,” she said.

It turned out the All-Stars were already interested in joining up with UNLV on this project. The trial in California last year was successful, Aguilar said, so they wanted to expand it to Las Vegas.

“Our plan,” she said, “is to continue following these students through high school to make sure they graduate.”

Contact reporter Richard Lake at or 702-383-0307.