How the Nevada Business Community Supports Veterans and Students

Posted March 1, 2016 by Robb Platt

Like many students today, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after high school. Many of my family members had devoted their lives to military and public service. While I was proud of them, it took me a while to decide for myself that I wanted to pursue a military career. A couple of years after high school, on a frigid day in January, I took the oath to become an enlisted soldier in the United States Army. After my military service, I joined Teach For America-Las Vegas Valley (TFA) as a Special Education teacher at Sunrise Mountain High School.

For the past two years, thanks to the support of TFA, my school administrators, Nellis Air Force Base and corporations like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, my students have had both active duty service members and veterans visit my classroom to share lessons on what it means to serve their country. This is all a part of the Teach For America Veterans Initiative which aims to bridge the gap between students in high need areas with veterans who are dedicated towards educational equity.

This year’s guest speaker was Wendell Blaylock, a former U.S. Air Force Captain assigned to a M.A.S.H. Unit. Hearing personal narrative from someone who had not only served our country, but was named one of the Distinguished Men of Nevada, was very powerful.

Wendell came to my classroom with an impeccable presentation, loaded with facts, maps and photos. My students couldn’t take their eyes off of him. He told his living history as though it was a book, and allowed students to pass around relics from his time in the service. He also included lessons about what it means to make that sort of commitment to your country. The students especially loved that they got to be a part of the presentation by trying on some of Wendell’s fatigues.

One of the most intimate conversations he had with students was about his father’s military experience. After receiving his pilot’s wings, Joseph Blaylock was assigned to be one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and experienced many struggles and challenges. Wendell shared photographs of the Tuskegee Airmen, and stories about how they never lost a bomber plane in all the time they were activated. Finally, he showed us a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal collectively awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen.

As a teacher, I’ve noticed that diverse learners, in particular, are often overlooked for enrichment experiences. It is with great pride that I was able to work alongside Wendell to bring a new dimension of leadership to the classroom. Wendell is not the only military serviceman to bring his experience to a CCSD classroom. William Carter, A1C, USAF, 57th Operations Support Squadron at Nellis Air Force base visited Brittany Bower’s 6th-8th grade Special Education class at Swainston Middle School and discussed his successes and challenges as an active duty serviceman.

Wendell and William did not see our students for their disability; they saw them for their ability. And with great pride, these men took time to learn the names of each student, and affirm their desire to attain a high school education and continue to succeed.

Other veterans in the Southern Nevada business community have stepped up to share their stories as well. Hearing these veterans’ stories firsthand is not only enriching for local students, but among the highlights of their academic year. For example, David Smith, a Global Financial Crimes Compliance Specialist at Bank of America, recently visited Ms. Karuna Russell’s 4th grade class at Manch Elementary School in North Las Vegas. He shared his unique story as well as photos from his 20-plus years in the U.S. Air Force. His service has taken him to Iraq, Afghanistan and Colombia, among other countries, and he is currently enlisted in the Air Force Reserves. David’s mission for the day was to inspire and motivate budding minds here in Las Vegas – he not only did just that, but helped put a face to the diverse veteran population in our community.

Every veteran has a story and unique experiences to share. Our students need high quality leaders like Wendell, William and David to mentor them. Veterans Day has come and gone but our mission remains the same: continue our service to our families, neighborhoods, communities, and country.

Teach For America is looking for more veterans to join the fight to end educational inequality. Learn about Teach For America’s mission to make a great education a reality for all and apply to the corps before March 4.