When I was a kid and back to school approached, my family would do the proverbial school-supply shopping trip. We’d write reminders on the fridge to set our alarm clocks and we’d even run a drill or two to see how fast we could make lunches, get dressed and get everyone out the door. My brother, sister and I would then lie awake in the nights just before the big day, imagining the possibilities. What teacher would we get? Where would we sit? Would we get a good locker or the one at the bottom with the warped edge that always jammed from being kicked one too many times? The possibilities were endless. School was a big deal and I loved that.
Now, as the superintendent of schools for Fresno County, it’s still a big deal and I still love it. Back to school brings with it such an incredible energy for me. Only now, it’s less about where I’ll sit and more about how I can position our office to create opportunities for the kids lying awake wondering all of the same things I did.
But, there’s so much more on their minds these days. It’s not just about locker locations and lunches. There seems to be an added layer of pressures and expectations that feels heavier now, more urgent than ever before. I am acutely aware of this, and at the same time, feel the need to go back to the basics. These are the building blocks of what I believe make children happy, successful and able to thrive.
I believe there is a critical foundation that must be in place for students to get the most out of their education. We work hard in our office to provide equity and access in each of these critical areas: Early Care, the Arts, Career Technical Education and Behavioral and Mental Health Services. I’ve capitalized them because they are that important to me.
You’ve no doubt heard of Cradle to Career (C2C). It’s a program we believe in and have been championing in our office. If we are being honest with ourselves, education begins even before the cradle prior to conception. I believe that healthy parents and families are part of the foundation of every child’s success, and we want to provide them with support from start to finish — from the womb to the world. For more on this concept, please visit fresnoc2c.org.
As your children begin to grow and learn, another critical component to the foundation of their success takes shape and that is imagination and creativity. That’s right — the arts. Drawing, acting, singing and dancing rewires their brains. It builds the capacity for innovation that no other area of study can match. An arts-rich education is a game changer, pure and simple. For more information on the arts in education, please visit sparkfresno.org.
What happens after that? Where do we put all these wonderful ideas and aspirations? How do we harness and channel that energy into something that has a tangible outcome? I have an idea — Career Technical Education. It’s a myth, not to mention short-sighted, to think that a four-year university is the only finish line to cross during and after high school. Students need hands-on experiences. This include opportunities to dip their toes in areas of interest and fields of study that offer not just a piece of paper at the end of the road, but a pathway and a direct pipeline to a satisfying and lucrative career. For more information on the opportunities in our community, please visit rop.fcoe.org.
Lastly, today more than ever, our students need programs that offer emotional and social support. All 4 Youth is a new partnership between our office and Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health. This model envisions a community where all children’s behavioral and mental health needs are addressed and met. Within four years, we will have assigned a behavioral health/mental health clinician to every school in Fresno County, serving children ages 0-22. When our students need help, it will be available right on their campus. For more information, please visit all4youth.fcoe.org.
As we embark upon this new school year, please take the time to discover some of the resources and opportunities by searching the websites included above. Education does not happen in a bubble nor in a vacuum. It is dynamic. It is ever changing. It is alive and it involves each and every one of us. School is a big deal. And, we should all be lying awake, in the days ahead, dreaming of the possibilities.
Jim Yovino is the Fresno County superintendent of schools.