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Education

To Boost Southwest Fresno: An Incoming College Campus, But Some Residents Want More

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Laura Tsutsui
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Valley Public Radio
Irv Hernandez is a father of six, living in Southwest Fresno. He says it was convenient to live to close to Edison High School while his daughter attended, but today, he's thinking about moving.

 

The state has been charging companies for their carbon emissions since 2012, and last year, it gave some of that money to communities most affected by pollution, including Fresno. Some of it was slated for Southwest Fresno -- an area that has suffered high rates of poverty and perceived neglect from the city. The plan is to build a college campus with a portion of these funds, and some believe that education is part of the answer to turning Southwest Fresno's misfortune around.

Irv Hernandez is one Southwest Fresno resident who agrees that educational opportunity is important to the area. He likes the nearby schools, specifically Edison Computech Middle School and Edison High School, both of which his eldest daughter attended.

Hernandez moved his family to Southwest Fresno just four years ago. At the time, he says, the house was the right price for his large family. But these days, Hernandez is considering moving again.

“We're hoping by next summer to try to go somewhere where we can walk outside and feel safe,” says Hernandez.

Hernandez pauses and looks out the window. The bread seller is driving down the street.

“We get the sweet bread man, we get the corn man, we get tamales every once in a while,” Hernandez laughs. “We're in the hood so we get a lot of perks here.”

If the neighborhood had other perks, like better parks, or more libraries, it would be easier to stay. But Hernandez says he’s tired of hearing police helicopters and sirens.

Still, he’s glad his eldest daughter graduated from Edison High School.

“To be in the area that it was in for her to still kind of excel academically said a lot in regards to what people can and can't do here,” Hernandez says. “I mean, you do have opportunities. Unfortunately here, they're not advertised so much, so you have to seek them out.”

Edison has one of the highest graduation rates in the district, and attracts some of the brightest students from across the city.

The school’s principal, Joey Munoz, describes the student population as “very diverse.” The students are predominantly Latino, but they also serve more black and Asian students than some nearby schools.

“We do serve students from all over the district. We have over 23 buses that bus students in from all over city,” Munoz says. “Because of that, we've worked really hard to be inclusive of all students that come.”

He spent the last seven years as a vice principal and just stepped into his role as principal in March. He’s seen the school evolve.

“Maybe ten years ago it was kind of a tale of two cities,” Munoz says. “You know, you had your neighborhood kids and your Computech kids. That's changed and has been a conscious change that we wanted to implement here.”

A change that includes more advanced placement courses and career technical education.

“At a school that has a chunk of kids who perform at a high level, we also have a chunk of kids that are not performing at the level we want them to perform,” says Munoz. “So we’ve been really focused on motivating students, giving teachers perspective, workshops around cultural bias and cultural competencies to even the playing field so some of our teachers recognize how some of our neighborhood kids are motivated.”

Tommy Wallace is a senior at Edison High School and he’s a neighborhood kid. He likes the school.

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Credit Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio
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Valley Public Radio
From left to right: Jaime Ruvalcava, Samantha Ortiz, Jada White, and Tommy Wallace. Of these Edison High School seniors, Jaime, Samantha and Jada are planning on attending college at some point, but Tommy says he wants to go straight into the workforce.

“I never thought I'd see so many different cultures, different ideas, different mindsets. There’s also people who’ve come from Clovis, Tulare,” says Tommy. ”You just meet part of California when you come to Edison.”

He says it’s a family tradition to attend Edison.

“I think it’s just the legacy Edison has. You’ll never meet the people you’ll meet here. You’ll never see another Mr. Radcliffe, you’ll never meet a Jerron, you’ll never meet another me.”

 

When he graduates, Tommy wants to be a truck driver. He doesn’t think he wants to attend college, but if he does, there will soon be one nearby.

Thanks to money generated by carbon emission permits, the State Center Community College District will be building a new Fresno City College Satellite Campus in Southwest Fresno.

“This was the number one voted issue from all the people that signed up, and the people that got to vote were people that live in West Fresno,” says Dr. Paul Parnell, chancellor for the district.

The community had to vote on where to spend the cap and trade money. Parnell says their priorities were clear, but there were some naysayers.

“There were some negative voices. I think you have to realize some people are afraid and I understand their fears that this is another promise unfulfilled, great talk and no action.”

 

Parnell points to the latest planning meetings as proof that the district is moving forward. Land has been purchased, and the district has invited community members, students and faculty to add their voices to the process.

Edison High School student Tommy Wallace knows he’ll eventually return to West Fresno, after he’s spent time on the open road as a trucker.

“This neighborhood most definitely will be touched first,” Tommy says, about when he’ll return to Southwest Fresno. “Like, I want to be remembered as Fresno's prodigal son, so I've got to touch this first.”

He wants to run a barber shop here, or maybe a laundromat. Whatever he does, he wants to support the neighborhood that raised him, so that when people move there in the future, maybe they’ll decide to stay.

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