When Hillary Clinton’s campaign was looking for a place for her to make an announcement this week about immigration policy, it chose Rancho High School in Las Vegas.
Clinton visited this school in 2007, when she was running for president the first time. Barack Obama visited the campus twice during that campaign season. The backdrop wasn’t a coincidence.
Rancho High School’s population is 70 percent Hispanic, and it has a proud history of political involvement.
Right now, two former students are competing for a congressional seat. Others serve in the Nevada State Legislature. One of the teachers, Isaac Barrone, is on the North Las Vegas City Council.
“I don’t think it’s out of character to say that a school — Rancho High School — it’s kind of the pulse and the center of the Latino community,” Barrone says.
Barrone is an advisor to the school’s largest and most socially engaged club, the Hispanic Student Union. Teacher Reuben DeSilva is the other advisor.
“There’s symbolism at this high school,” DeSilva says. “You come to Rancho High School, you are actually showing that you care about the community.”
As classes let out on a recent afternoon, teenagers fill the hallways. The student body is remarkably diverse. Only about 10 percent of students are white, and two-thirds of those on campus are classified as economically disadvantaged.
Fewer than half go on to college. Betsaida Frausto, a junior with a GPA in the stratosphere, plans to be among those who do.
“It is special,” Frauster says. “It’s amazing, in my experience. If I had to choose to go to another school and Rancho was an impossibility, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Frausto is what’s known as a DREAMer. She came to the country illegally as a child, but she dreams of going to Yale and becoming a doctor. First, she hopes to be elected treasurer of the Hispanic Student Union.
When local politicians need people to knock on doors around election time, they turn to the students in the club. Frausto volunteered for a congressional campaign last fall.
“We canvassed to get our voice out, to allow others to hear our story and make sure people know that voting is the way to go,” she says.
DeSilva says he’s amazed at how engaged the students are.
“They could say no,” he says. “It’s usually on a Saturday, but they’ll go out there. Even to me, it baffles me sometimes. I’m like, ‘You know, you could be sleeping in,’ and they’ll knock on doors and work. It’s pretty astounding to see just how willing they are to actually get out.”
Another politician visit helped put Rancho High School on the map. In October 2010, Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle visited Rancho’s Hispanic Student Union and told the kids they looked Asian. Some were recording on their cell phones.
“I don’t know that all of you are Latino,” Angle said. “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”
The statement went viral.
Club member Brandon Willis, who is African-American, says he loves the Hispanic Student Union.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Why are you in HSU? You’re not even Hispanic,” Willis says. “Why would I not be in HSU? It’s awesome!”
Willis wants to be president of the United States, and he’s serious about it. He says his teachers at Rancho High School convinced him it’s possible.
“I want to change the world for the better,” he says. “The way I see it, to change the system, you have to be part of the system and then change it from the inside.”