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Billionaire philanthropist gifts $5 million to Nevada schools

Posted at 5:42 AM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 11:58:11-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott continues to donate her fortune after her divorce to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Scott's foundation gifted $133.5 million to an educational nonprofit that is dedicated to preventing students from dropping out of high school. Of the 110 affiliates within Communities in Schools, Nevada's chapter will receive $5 million of unrestricted funds.

Communities in Schools of Nevada taps into a network of more than 100 agencies and nonprofits. More importantly, the organization case manages a select group of students who may need extra encouragement, discipline, or behavioral counseling to succeed.

"When I was in freshman year, I didn’t think I was going to graduate,” said Eldorado High School senior Kaylin Little. "I probably would not be walking the stage, probably not doing all of the high school things, probably still being a bad kid basically.”

Kaylin's future changed the moment she met Ms. Rocio in the Communities in Schools of Nevada resource lounge. The room is stocked with school supplies, a clothing closet, hygiene kits, bus passes, and anything that meets a student’s basic needs. Like something to eat; many students not getting enough food at home.

“I was like, 'Oh, she gives out soups,'” Kaylin said. "So I went and she was just like, 'Hey, let’s check on your grades.'”

For the past four years, Kaylin and Ms. Rocio have formed a special bond.

“We try to make sure we do build that one-on-one relationship with them,” said Rocio Ledesma, a site coordinator for CIS at Eldorado High.

Ms. Rocio is the daughter of immigrant parents and the eldest of five, and she said she is all too familiar with obstacles that could prevent her students from graduating. She said she almost dropped out of high school herself.

“It happens during like, junior, senior year," Ms. Rocio said. "I wasn’t going to school, I barely made it to graduate and it’s hard when you don’t have anybody there.”

Nevada continually ranks towards the bottom of high school graduation rates. The Clark County School District is the fifth-largest in the United States and the largest in Nevada, and education officials are seeing a down-tick in graduation rates because of the pandemic.

“A lot of our students have had to stay home and be caregivers for their younger siblings," said Tami Hance-Lehr, CEO and state director of CIS of Nevada. "They’ve had to take jobs or work extra hours to help put food on the table."

According to the State of Nevada Department of Education, graduation rates in Clark County went down from 85.80% in 2019 to 83.17% in 2020 to 80.94% in 2021. Communities in Schools of Nevada is working to combat those numbers.

"There’s a lot of those needs that have increased that absentee rate," Hance-Lehr said. "So by putting Communities in Schools on campus in partnership with our schools, 92 percent of our case-managed seniors walked across the finish line.”

Today, Kaylin Little will be one of those crossing the finish line this spring; however, her goals stretch beyond graduation. Now she's envisioning a future that was once unimaginable.

“I want to go to CSN for college and then transfer to UNLV. I want to go into psychology,” Kaylin said.

Communities in Schools of Nevada is currently present in 81 schools throughout the state, but the non-profit wants to put a program in all 400 Title 1 schools. They believe the donation from Scott will be a "game-changer."