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Transcript of interview with William E. "Bilbo" Helms by Denise Wolff, March 4, 1980






On March 4, 1980, collector Denise Wolff interviewed truck driver and teacher, William E. “Bilbo” Helms (born on December 7th, 1932 in Memphis, Tennessee) in an office room at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. This interview covers the transformation, growth, and development of the public education system in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Helms, William E. "Bilbo" Interview, 1980 March 4. OH-00833. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries William Helms i An Interview with William Helms An Oral History Conducted by Denise Wolff Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries William Helms ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2019 UNLV University Libraries William Helms iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries William Helms iv Abstract On March 4, 1980, collector Denise Wolff interviewed truck driver and teacher, William E. “Bilbo” Helms (born on December 7th, 1932 in Memphis, Tennessee) in an office room at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. This interview covers the transformation, growth, and development of the public education system in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV University Libraries William Helms 1 Side one. The informant is Mr. Helms. The date is March 4th, 1980 at 7:55 A. M. The place is 6665 Del Ray Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada. The collector is Denise Wolff, 2109 Sundale Street, Las Vegas, Nevada. The project is Local History Project Eleven and Interview as Development of Education in Nevada. Mr. Helms, how long have you lived here and what brought you to Las Vegas? Well, I’ve lived in Nevada since March of 1943. So approximately twenty-seven years. Okay. What brought you here? We came here at the—during the Second World War. My father was stationed at Kingman at the Air Force Base there. Okay. Did you attend school here at all? Yes. I did. From the Sixth Grade all the way through. What high school did you attend? Boulder City High School. Okay. How did you get your start with the school district? Well, I—my main, one of my—my major in college was education. And I had taught previously in Washoe County. And we moved backed down to Southern Nevada and I applied for a job in the school district and I was accepted. What was your first job in the school district? I was a teacher of social studies at Gars—well, at first at Clark High School and then at Garside Junior High. Okay. Are there any special requirements that you had to take for the position you hold now? UNLV University Libraries William Helms 2 Well, the position that I hold now is a pseudo administrative job. And yes, the requirements at the time that I got on or was accepted on the administrative list, you had to take two tests at the administration building or in the school district. And also pass an oral interview. And then, once you were accepted, then you could apply for the jobs. My position now is Dean of Students here at Bonanza High School. And I was formerly Dean of Students at Clark High School, also. And dealing with attendance problems, discipline problems, and parent conferences and relating these things to the parents as far as the schools and the school information of their concern. So as far as special requirements, yes, I guess you can say they were. Okay. How many grades were there and are there now in the school structure? From when I first—? Yes. From when I went to school and what it’s like now? Yes. Well, when I—when I first, when I first started school it was the same thing in Boulder City when we first moved there—was the Grammar School. It went first grade through the eighth grade, and there was a graduation ceremony from eighth grade to the high school, or the ninth through twelfth. Now it has changed of course, it did go one through six, and then that was the elementary school, and then junior high, seven through nine, and most of the high schools at that time or in recent years, it was just ten, eleven, and twelve. But that’s changed now, of course, as you know with the sixth grade centers, which has taken one year out of that elementary school area. And some junior highs are still seven, eight, and nine, making some high schools still eleven and twelve but there’s like Bonanza here, we do have ninth graders. We have ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth. So it has changed somewhat, as far as the number of grades are concerned. UNLV University Libraries William Helms 3 I see. Is there now or has there ever been segregation in the Las Vegas Schools? Segregation? Well, I don’t know. There was probably—you would be called. Not probably, they called it pseudo-segregation in the beginning. So when I first moved here, no there wasn’t—segregation. There wasn’t segregation in any of the schools in Las Vegas or Henderson, Boulder City. They—everyone just went to the same schools. Including the schools on the so-called Westside, which of course relates back to being west of the railroad tracks and where most of the train crew men lived in the early days. But yes, there was that type of segregation. And then, with the elementary schools and so on being built in the Westside neighborhood, most of the children living in that area were segregated to that area. But it was not a pronounced segregation, although it was segregation as such. Okay. Why was the Sixth Grade Center started? And are there any real parent problems with it? Well, I’m not—except being a parent who had two children attend the Sixth Grade Centers, I’m not overly familiar with the situation. The Sixth Grade Centers of course, were started because of the Federal law, requiring some type of an integration plan. And the plan had to be accepted by the Federal courts and this Sixth Grade Center Program of bussing students from all over the valley into the Westside elementary schools, placing children from all the diverse areas of the Las Vegas part of the county, in the Sixth Grade Centers was to achieve a certain type of integration or familiarization between the various groups of people. The bussing problem that I really saw or felt was a problem, was taking the smaller—the younger elementary school children from the Westside area to make room for the Sixth Grade Centers in the elementary schools here. Taking these young people and bussing them ten, eleven miles across the valley to different elementary school locations. That I don’t agree with, and I know a lot of parents of UNLV University Libraries William Helms 4 those children that don’t agree with it either. But the other situation of my children or children of friend’s of mine that went into the Sixth Grade Centers. There wasn’t any great problem but after it’s over and done with, that one year was not very beneficial to either one of my children as far as education was concerned. It was not a totally lost year but it certainly wasn’t beneficial to them at all. It was more like a holding pattern for one year. I see. Is there bussing in the high school at all? Only as far as transportation is concerned. It’s nothing—nothing to do with achieving any type or form of integration, no. I see. Is there discipline in the schools nowadays? Yes. There’s a type of discipline in the schools. It’s less on—it’s not as strict or as rigid as it has been in the past, or as it was in the past. I—well, it’s just very difficult to say, “Yes there is discipline,” but it takes a completely different form than what it did fifteen, twenty years ago. Did teachers or administrators have the right to use the discipline that they have? Why, yes, the discipline that is available to administrators and teachers is used and can be used. There is still in the state of Nevada, there is—physical discipline is still accepted: swatting, spanking, whatever you want to call—that form of discipline is not used as much as it was in the past, very seldom at the high school level, somewhat in the elementary and junior high schools. But it requires that there be 2 people there that be a witness, and in most cases parents are contacted, and so on. So it’s—the children are considered in this very much so now, then they used to be. I see. If a student feels that he’s been disciplined for the wrong reasons or something can he take action against the teacher or the person who disciplined him? Yes. Students do have rights. UNLV University Libraries William Helms 5 Hm. The can—they have their rights. They can form a, or file a suit, if they feel that—if it was a physical form of discipline, if it was excessive, they then can question, yes, they do have a right to do that. (Unintelligible) What is Opportunity School? Opportunity School is an alternative program, an interim program that is made available by the Clark County School District for students who do not seem to—now I hate to use the word, conform. But they don’t seem to get along as far as attendance discipline, wanting to do their work in school, and so forth. It’s there for those students, and it is only for or during that grading period, or for that nine weeks grading period. At the end of each nine weeks, there’s a review board held and each and every student in Opportunity school is reviewed by a board of outside administrators as well as the administrators at Opportunity School. They look at their grades, their attendance, any discipline problems that might have occurred at Opportunity School, and if the student has shown that they do these things, which of course is to the benefit of the student. Then they reviewed back to their regular day school program. And in most cases there is a total turnover in Opportunity School, every nine weeks. I see. Are the class periods longer or shorter nowadays compared to when you were in school? It’s basically the same. Fifty minutes. Fifty minutes per class. Yes. ‘Course when I went to school in Boulder City, there was no cafeteria or lunch room or anything such as that. So the students waited an hour for lunch because the students walked home or went home, for lunch. UNLV University Libraries William Helms 6 There’s a lunch—most of the high school’s—junior high schools have cafeterias, luncheterias, and they are provided with food there and it’s now a half hour for lunch, yes. So that time has changed as far as that’s concerned. It’s just because now the facilities aren’t provided. Are the students required to attend all day? Or can they have certain periods? Well, the new school district regulations that were established by the school board, says that the ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade students will attend six classes a day. And seniors may have a four period day in which they have to attend or they have to enroll in four class periods. So that would be the shortened schedule, if any. When they have this certain schedule do they have to apply for it and have permission? Oh. Well, that was in the past, yes. There was, you could request a shortened schedule. You‘d fill out the form, gave your reasons for it, and that went through your counselor, through the student counselor. And then, the parents would have to sign it, so that they would know what was going on and then it wasn’t discussed as far as, you know, the number of credits a student needed, and if it looked like they were in line to graduate. Then the—it was usually okayed. Now it’s not totally necessary. Have the textbooks changed greatly from when you were in school to what’s being used today? Well, for the only—about the only big change as far as textbooks are concerned is that they are being written now at a lower level of reading than they were—to try and match the reading level of the students. Because students reading level is lower now than what it was. Also they’ve tried to make ‘em more colorful, a little more interesting, and in some cases they do get carried away with it. But no—basically textbooks are the same. Have the styles of classrooms and the facilities at the school changed drastically? UNLV University Libraries William Helms 7 In some buildings in some schools, yes. Such as Bonanza, you know, here at this school. Drastically? I’d say, yes. Because we have no outside windows on the classrooms. The—you can’t sit in a classroom and daydream by looking at the clouds passing by or the birds landing in the trees or anything such as that, as was, you know, basically, supposedly done in the past, and the skylarking, as it was called or sneaking out of the windows like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn did and so on or some students did in other schools. The classrooms are not lined up and down corridors anymore, particularly in a school such as this, or like other schools in Clark County, like Clark High School, or Valley High School, where the classrooms are around in pods. Even in the junior high schools, you can go around and around. It’s like a maze almost—to get from one area to another area and then find the classroom. And then, the classrooms are not oblong or square shaped, as such, in a lot of the buildings—anymore. They—they could be all different sizes and shapes, where it used to be—so much uniformity. So yes, it has changed. Colors inside the buildings have changed, and in the classroom. Instead of being the old hardwood floors or tile floors, or something such as this. A lot of the schools now, the hallways and even in the classrooms are carpeted. So yes, it has changed. It has changed drastically in many cases. What kind of requirements does must a student need for graduation? Well, that hasn’t changed too much. They’re increasing the number of credits required for graduation now. Where it used to be seventeen and then it went to eighteen and now it is coming that students will be required to have nineteen credits for graduation. And I think that the increase in the number of credits for graduation has come about because of the—of the necessity of giving our present day students more education and requiring them to get in to the classes more and remain in school a little longer as far as their day is concerned in their senior year and UNLV University Libraries William Helms 8 so on. But to help them to look into more classes and more areas of study, as far as their curriculum is concerned. Do the students take these extra classes as a hindrance to ‘em? A lot of students do, yes. There was quite an influence in a few years passed, of “Why do?” Or “Why take?” Why get involved in something that you’re not interested in as a person? Well, as a young person of thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old. ‘Course, I don’t think there were too many people or that there are too many people, that know exactly what they want to do and when they want to do it. But some students, some school districts gave the students supposedly this right or this choice of taking only what really interested them. And they weren’t expected to achieve at any level high or low in an area that just wasn’t that exciting to them. Well, it just stands to reason that not everything is exciting to everyone at a given time. But later on, more education, a lot of education will be impressed upon the young people because of the necessity of it. Yes, a lot of young people look at it as a hindrance or a drag or a hassle or something, because they are asked to take classes that they don’t think are ‘gonna benefit them. And so many young people are so materialistic now they only look at a class or at school as far as its value to them and their earning power. They want to find some way to set it up in relationship to money, and what is part of their materialistic world. I see. Do the students have the right to pick what classes they want and what time they want and what teachers? Mm-hmm. Yes, here at Bonanza they do, yes—when I was going, when I was in high school, you showed up and your classes were already picked for you. They told you what you had to take. Maybe you’d have—maybe one or two electives a year and this was all the way through your senior year and you were told this is what you had to take and why. But to get a little closer UNLV University Libraries William Helms 9 to your question—yes. Students are allowed to do this now. Here at Bonanza they are told what the requirements are for their freshman year, such as English, physical education, a math class, a science class and then the electives. Same thing in their sophomore year, they’re told what the requirements are that they need to fulfill their sophomore year, also their junior year, and so on down the line. But they picked the teachers that they want. They pick the times that they want to take the classes and the curriculum is devised so that there’s a wide choice, very wide choice for the young people, yes. Has the graduation ceremony changed much? Do students feel that it’s a high honor to participate in it? Or could they care less about it? Well, that’s—it has changed. Yes. It has changed quite a bit. The student’s attitudes toward it. There used to be two parts to graduating from high school. Two very important parts. One was the baccalaureate ceremony and then the graduation ceremony. The baccalaureate ceremony usually took place on a Sunday, or in an evening before graduation and was basically a nondenominational, some type of a— Religious? Religious ceremony. Emphasizing your belief in a supreme being and the thanks that the young people and the community, parents and so on, gave for their completion of their school year and the fact that it was here for them and that it was available to them. Then the graduation ceremony was a little more solemn. As solemn as it can be with high school aged people. But now there is a lack of respect for the entire situation. Baccalaureate is no longer held. Graduation is just something that most young people here at Bonanza go through because their parents want to see them go through it. And yes, it has been a change. UNLV University Libraries William Helms 10 When you attended school were there a lot of dropouts? Or do they seem to be more nowadays? No. There weren’t that many dropouts. Any of the dropouts that did occur usually because the—student the young person had to go to work to either help in a family situation or they were on their own at that time. Otherwise most of the young people that I—or the people that I grew up with remained in school because they wanted the education. It was something you know that you would try to get more and have more than what your parents had. So no—it wasn’t really that much of a—an idea of dropping out as it was taking care of the necessities. Nowadays. Yes. There are a lot of young people that just drop out. Because—to them school becomes such a great drag, a hassle. It stops them from earning money, at the present time and so forth, even though they had the rest of their lives to work. They supposedly you know, don’t like the classes or the school or whatever but they—whenever they can a lot of—a lot more of them are dropping out now than they used to, yes. Is it easy for the students to drop out? No. Not necessarily. Within the state of Nevada. There are still state laws, which I’m glad to see. There’s still state laws that require that a young person attend school until they reach the age of seventeen. They cannot withdraw themselves like they can in some states. And some states as low as fifteen. New York, for one, at age sixteen, students can just go in and signed themselves out and it does not take their parents signature or their parents okay or anything. But here in Nevada they have to attend until age seventeen and even after seventeen, their parents have control over them and direction for them until they reach age eighteen. Their parents can require them to attend school. But after seventeen, they reach the dangerous age, of where, if they’re not UNLV University Libraries William Helms 11 attending or if they’re causing too many problems, anything such as that, they can be withdrawn by the school itself. Is the student then ever allowed back into another school, if he’s withdrawn by the school? If they’re over seventeen it becomes questionable, you know, what their true interest is. But here in the Clark County School District there is another alternative program that is provided for those students seventeen years old or older who still need credits to graduate, and at some time along the line they dropped out or they had discipline problems. And even some students that have been expelled—and on the expulsion list, are allowed to attend what is called the secondary extension school. And there they can acquire the credits necessary for graduation. And they can receive a high school diploma from the Clark County School District. I see. What kind of transportation is there provided for students today? Well, there is bussing provided for even high school students to the schools as provided for all students in all areas of the county. And the only requirement is that you live over two miles away from the location of your school. And then you are allowed to get on the bus and ride the bus to school and to home—back to home in the afternoons. And after there are late buses provided for those people that are involved in athletics. We—here at Bonanza we have a special bus that runs an hour after—it departs from the school an hour after school is out to taking students home that have stayed to participate in tutorial programs where they get extra tutoring in math and reading and so on. So, yes. There’s a lot of transportation besides all the transportation for the athletic events and so on. There’s a lot of transportation for students, yes. What kind of effects have radio and TV had on the students comparing them today to when you went to school? UNLV University Libraries William Helms 12 Well, I really—I really don’t know. I don’t know of any research. I haven’t done any research on it. A lot of the TV and radio today as far as some TV programs in the music that young people listen to, has had an effect upon the students. It has an effect upon how they feel about respect, respect for schools, respect for themselves. Respect for other people. And well, I think there’s one recently by the pink—what’s their name? There’s one about “We don’t need this education. We don’t need this institution. We don’t need those— (Unintelligible)? “Blankety-blank teachers.” Mm-hmm. And so forth. There’s an awful lot of that. And there was a lot of it that came out in the sixties. And because of the change in the style of music, which I like, and I enjoy the music itself—its— not much of it is very, very good. But with the free open verse, the loudness of the music and so forth, turned a lot of parents, adults off so they don’t listen. Also it’s very difficult for them to understand. But if they heard more of their music, if they would listen to it and look at the words and listen to the philosophy that is being projected by this, they would see that, yes, it does affect a lot of young people. Is radio or TV ever used in a classroom? Yes. It is. It’s used very effectively and very well. Because there are many beneficial things that are on radio and that can be viewed from the television. In fact, we have a very nice media center here in Bonanza High School. Our own television studio where we can bring in the—pick up the outside channels. We can divert them into any room or groups of rooms. Radio, also. We have our own radio station here at the school, where the students do all the programming. The taping UNLV University Libraries William Helms 13 and so forth. Music is played before school at noon and after school and it’s all controlled or operated by the students, under the direction of course of our communications teacher. Okay. Has the student nowadays matured, greatly, as to when you went to school? Well, you know, what can I say about that? Maturity. Maturation level. In some ways, yes. They have. Except they don’t take as much responsibility upon themselves in many ways. Not only responsibility of completing school but also the responsibility for their own actions. They just—they seem to let it go. Maturity level. I don’t know. We’ve exposed our young people to an awful lot of things. We dress them. We line them up. We place them in positions and force them very much earlier into the adult world then was done when I was growing up. Then the maturity and the maturation level was achieved more or less by the individual. Not because someone dressed them up and put make up on them or put ‘em in “the” clothes and “the” this and that sort of thing. And made them appear to be more than what they are, you know. So no, I—I can’t agree with that. That is a—they are, they aren’t type question. Yes. Because no, I can’t agree that they are. I think they’re being forced into an adult world but I don’t think they’ve been prepared to accept it. Okay. When you attended school were there rules against holding hands or kissing in the halls and things like that? And are there such rules nowadays in the high school? Yes. There were rules such as that one when we were in high school. It wasn’t that strict or that stringent. You just—you didn’t do some of the things that young people do today in the halls or around the school. And we have some here in Clark County, yes, it’s called the display of public affection. It’s a school district regulation. But—some schools enforce it, some don’t. But we do somewhat here at Bonanza. UNLV University Libraries William Helms 14 Do the students feel any shame if they are reprimanded for what they’re doing? No. I don’t know. But shame—they don’t seem to. They don’t like to be told. They don’t like to be told what to do in almost any instance, not in just holding hands or kissing or whatever else they might be doing. They just don’t want to be told about it. They don’t want to hear it from anyone. Okay. (Tape one ends) Are there dress codes nowadays and have they changed much since when you attended school? Well, all I know—they never—no one ever said anything about a dress code when I went to school, not that I heard of or anything. You just went to school with clothes on. It wasn’t a matter of like today, some young people and some parents would have the students like young girls coming to school with these very silky like running shorts on you know, a tank top which is just a colored undershirt as some of the older folks might call it. And they wear these type of things to class. When we were going—when I was in school girls did not—well, I guess the big thing was that girls could not wear slacks or shorts or anything such as that to school. And you just—you wore clothes. The girls wore skirts, dresses, and things such as that. And boys wore pants and shirts. And it was just the thing. It was just accepted. But now it seems that even though they have tried to—they do have a dress code in Clark County. And we try to enforce a dress code here at Bonanza, to the point of like you know, if you have a real nice expensive tennis outfit with you know, thirty-five dollar tennis shorts and a nice top or a warm up type jacket or something such as that and nice tennis shoes and shocks, it’s very nice and so you should take your tennis racket and the tennis balls and go find yourself a tennis court and play tennis because UNLV University Libraries William Helms 15 that’s not you know, school. It distracts in some ways. People wearing cutoffs with frizzly edges and you know the shower clogs or the little you know rubber things that fit in between your toes—those things are great you know for playing with your Frisbee or doing the thing at the beach or down at the park. And that’s the place for it, not here in school where they’re slit up the sides above the hip bone and so on. So yes, there are places—I still feel that there are places to wear certain types of clothes. And the students here at Bonanza have come to this point, we have no real problems with it right now—and I think they’re doing a very good job here. And with the emphasis on it or emphasizing a dress code in with that philosophy or that idea, you wear some type of clothes, they don’t have to be formal; boys, they don’t have to wear ties, girls don’t have to wear formals or you know, cocktail dresses or anything, such as that. But we do ask them to dress and to wear shoes that you know somewhat cover their feet, as far as the danger of stepping on pins or kicking a table or something, such as where a young person might be injured. So, yes, there are dress codes. They’re enforced in different degrees at the various schools in the County. Do you feel that the reason for the students wearing cutoffs and different outfits like this is that they don’t care about school or—just because they want to be comfortable? Uh, well, uh, comfortable might have something to do with it. And also it’s just an attitude. It’s a very, very—well, it’s an attitude that they don’t really realize. Most of them will say that, you know, they just want to be comfortable when they go to school. And if they’re comfortable then they can appreciate what’s going on in school a little more, and so on. But one of the—I guess one of the best examples of dress and what affect dress really has on young people, and the way they act and the way they conduct themselves, is like most of the senior trips that go to Disney Land. You cannot go into Disney Land on one of the senior trips; the boys have to have on at least a sport coat, slash shirt and tie, and the tie has to be worn at all times. The girls have to—if UNLV University Libraries William Helms 16 they’re going to wear pantsuits, which they couldn’t for a long time, because they’re ‘gonna wear pantsuits they have to be matching pantsuits or a dress. And one of the reasons for this is, as I think as most people know and most people will agree to—you act and you respond to other people in the way that you and the way that they are dressed. So if, you know, if the teachers came to school in cutoffs and shower clogs or whatever, students would react a little differently to them. So, yes, students feel that they—some students do—that they should have a right to do or come as they, and go as they please. And in most cases they are, they are allowed to. It’s just the extremes that are not acceptable. I see. When you attended high school, were there any kind of social groups and are there more social groups nowadays or less? Okay, now social groups, by social groups I would assume that you mean organizations, geez, I remember hearing about high school fraternities or something such as this. Right. Mm-hmm. Well, I went to a small high school, so I couldn’t really say about social groups. Most of the social groups around the schools consisted of the basic school clubs. The school situations, you know, from the football, basketball, track, the Girl’s Athletic Association, the drama club, things such as this, as far as any social groups were concerned, it was just the matter of the kids in the school. I guess I might be the wrong one to ask that question, as far as my background is concerned, and the school that I went to. But—‘cause we only had a hundred and eighty-five students in high school at that time. But it’s—it’s different now. In other schools they did have certain groups that were—I guess you might call ‘em, elitist—if that’s one of the points here. Today, it’s different. The young people do have groups. They’re not identified by having any type of advisors or recognized on a school campus. But there are groups and the groups are very UNLV University Libraries William Helms 17 close knit. They are run very stringently by peer pressure and it is much more so then when I went to high school, and when I was going there. The peer pressure is so much stronger now that it’s in some cases frightening. Very frightening. Does peer pressure affect you know, students—that they change their mind about their attitudes to school or—? Mm-hmm. Or what they feel is right?