There’s a lot of noise in the Southern Nevada education bubble. Go to practically any sanctioned meeting, and you’ll hear a steady drumbeat of phrases such as “student achievement,” “budget cuts,” “teacher pay,” “chronic underfunding,” “school district reorganization” and “labor relations.” They’re all important topics that, when weaved together, form a tapestry under which Clark County educates its children. But those words alone don’t really tell the stories that play out 180 days per year in classrooms across the Las Vegas Valley. We wanted to go under the hood, so to speak, and tell that story — the everyday triumphs and challenges of students and staff. After all, they’re the ones on the front lines.
The key to telling this story, of course, would be access. You can’t describe what goes on in a learning environment without actually being in that learning environment. So we made a pitch to Clark County School District officials: Let us embed in an elementary school for the academic year and be the proverbial fly on the wall. They accepted, which led to step two: identifying a school. We didn’t want the highest-performing school or the worst-performing school. We wanted something relatively in the middle — a school showing promise but also vexed by struggles common to other Clark County schools. That’s how we landed on Sunrise Acres Elementary School, nestled between Eastern Avenue and Mojave Road in the city’s urban corridor. The school receives extra federal and state money because it serves a large population of students who come from low-income households or who are still learning English.
Starting in early October, a reporter and photographer endeavored to make weekly school visits — or more if possible. They spent time in classrooms, on the playground, in the front office, at lunch, in staff meetings and at after-school events. They also interviewed staff members and analyzed school data to better understand the dynamics at Sunrise Acres. The goal: Paint a portrait of daily life at this urban school by sharing scenes and stories from various staff members and students. We intentionally did not focus on any one person. A school, perhaps more than any other organization, is an ecosystem that builds off the collective work of all people inhabiting it. Above all, we didn’t want to harm the children through the course of this reporting. Some of the material is sensitive in nature. For that reason, we changed all students’ names to protect their identities. We did the same for their parents — only to further keep students’ identities concealed.