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INTRO: Some of Las Vegas's most disadvantaged students spent the first day back at school today outfitted with free backpacks, pencils and notebooks. KNPR's Ky Plaskon has more on one of the most successful college prep program in the nation.

CHAVEZ: Un libro, quaderno, pues todo.

PLASKON: Today was the first day at school in the life of Salma Chavez. She happily looks through the books, folders and backpack she picked up for free at the Clark County Amphiltheater. Hundreds of children took advantage of services Friday to prepare for school. Salma's mother knows why.

MARIA CHAVEZ: Si no tienen suficientes fondos tal vez si porque no van preparados para equela y vana ser otras cosas en esquela.

PLASKON: If they don't have sufficient funds to buy the supplies that they need then yes, if they are not prepared for school they will find other things to do than school, she says. Students finding other things to do, sometimes means dropping out. The Center for Academic Advancement and Outreach of UNLV, or The Center as it is known that put on this event, focuses on these students like Salma, would-be first generation college students that need assistance. Yvonne Atkinson Gates is the deputy CEO.

ATKINSON GATESOur philosophy is to get kids early on, we are very inclusive we did deal with the needs of those kids, we don't group them as a whole. I think the drop out rate here in Clark County is phenomenal, it's too excessive.

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PLASKON: Clark County has the highest drop out rate in Nevada behind Storey and White Pine Counties. Clark County lost 5,093 students in the 2002 school year. The All American Back to School Event set up by the Center passing out the free supplies helps keep kids in school says Atkinson Gates.

ATKINSON GATES If kids don't go back to school with the right supplies that in many cases is embarrassing to them as well as it doesn't really help them to be prepared and our goal is to make sure that kids are excited about going back to school so we want to send them to school with all the tools they need so they can aspire to be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever they want to be. PLASKON: The Center has succeeded in acquiring more federal grants for education than any other school district in the nation. 9 grants in all. The Center serves 18-thousand students, starting with pencils at a young age and then college prep testing and financing.

ATKINSON GATES: We have been very successful in writing our grants and our success rate is at 98 percent and so we have shown we know how to spend federal dollars prudently and our success rate is phenomenal.

PLASKON: The 98-percent of high school students who use the The Center's programs go on to college. Atkinson Gates is a product of the services as well as Nevada Congresswoman Shelly Berkely. Western High School 10th Grader John who was carrying a back pack given out for free by The Center didn't think the free backpack service would help him very much.

STUDENT: Nope. I rarely carry anything.

PLASKON: Do you think you might carry more books because you have one?

STUDENT: Nah.

WORKER: Open your backpack and keep it open.

PLASKON: The backpacks are black drawstring bags with a thin black rope as shoulder straps. They were the most expensive give-away of this 12-thousand dollar event for disadvantaged students on Friday. It's just one of many services the Center for Academic Achievement and Outreach provides. From hot dogs and a movie to get students excited about school to after school activities, college campus tours, and testing, that combined leave only 2 percent behind, the rest go on to college.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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