Growing Up Experiencing North Las Vegas, A Special School and Sin City

Ashley Martinez describes her childhood growing up in North Las Vegas, a city with diverse communities only minutes away from each other.

Working in the Media Communications studio at Northwest Career and Technical Academy (NWCTA) with a friend. Photo by Ashley Martinez.

Interrupting Someone’s Fantasy Vacation

“If this is your home, let me be the first to say: welcome home. Welcome to Las Vegas.”

By now, I know the flight landing speech into Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada all too well. I am comforted by the glimmering lights and restless noise of the city. Home means Las Vegas to me.

Anyone from Las Vegas and the surrounding area can tell you all about what to expect when you go out of town. Questions like “so what casino do you live in” and “what else is there to do in Vegas except for gamble” are common. Comments about the dry heat and lack of activities for those underage are even more so.

I have called North Las Vegas home since I was five years old. At 21, I know the city the never sleeps. I know the 24/7 hour restaurants, late-night entertainment, and slot machines in grocery stores.

Fighting the idea that I never lived in a hotel resort is not easy knowing I graduated from high school in a casino arena. Or the fact that my very first job was in a resort spa. Or the fact that both of my parents continue to work in the hospitality industry on the Strip. These facts are constantly generalized everywhere outside the city limits.

In some ways living in Las Vegas feels like interrupting someone’s fantasy vacation.

During my time working as a spa attendant, I was tasked with folding towels, giving tours, and completing daily chores. Some guests embraced a quiet space to relax. Others arrived waiting to be treated like royalty, throwing dirty towels at other attendants and demanding extra time on their services for no additional cost. During one shift, a guest reported me to my manager after I refused to cut her hair. The situations made it difficult to drive back home and remember that people lived here too.

Public Forum Debate awards are distributed to competitors at Rancho High School. Photo by Ashley Martinez.

A Special School Experience

Still, I roll my eyes at the common tourist questions. My home is more than the Strip, Fremont Street and ‘Sin City.’

In my own neighborhood, news headlines feature high crime and violence. Only 20-minutes away, an entirely different world existed within the walls of Northwest Career and Technical Academy, which then had a specialization in Media Communications. I remember time spent in production studios, editing booths, and roaming around campus capturing B-roll.

The city regarded the school as one of the city’s educational pillars, among other high school magnet programs. The school boasted about career and technical certifications and national recognition. The city recognized us as intelligent and high-achieving kids. Other schools saw us as the ‘nerdy’ school not permitted to have a sports team. Instead, I saw overly competitive and often elite high schoolers. I saw it most in high school speech and debate.

Speech and debate competitions expanded my world in more ways than one. While the debate team would like to be considered the ‘academic equivalent of jocks’ in high school, we were the exact opposite. Our research and learning focused on topics ranging from intercontinental ballistic missiles to NCAA athletes.

Tournaments hosted at different high schools across the Las Vegas Valley exposed entirely different worlds. It baffled me to think we were only a short drive from each other. I compared the luxury shops close to Palo Verde High School to the community center and tents close to Rancho High School. I explored the halls of Bishop Gorman high school, wondering how a school could ever be so well-funded.

Through it all, Las Vegas was always more than the Sin City it was portrayed to be. It continues to be a home to me and hundreds of thousands more today beyond the flashy slot machines and happy hour drinks. Even so, these worlds and countless others all exist within Las Vegas.

Reporting by Ashley Martinez shared with Reynolds Sandbox

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Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.