If you want to understand poverty in Fresno County and how to grow prosperity, watch the video above before reading another word.

Narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, the video succinctly explains the challenges facing poor children and the teachers entrusted with giving them the education to become successful adults.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director/Columnist Bill McEwen


Bill McEwen

Behind From the Start

In summary, children born to mothers who didn’t receive prenatal care during pregnancy start out life with a big strike against them. Young children who aren’t read to and nurtured fall behind before kindergarten. Once in kindergarten, they miss a staggering number of school days.

Moreover, children who spend the summer in front of a TV regress in educational attainment. Those who play outdoors and read over the summer return to school ahead of where they were.

The expectation, of course, is that teachers and school districts will find ways to bring all struggling children up to speed. This is an unrealistic expectation, given how quickly young brains develop.

The expectation, of course, is that teachers and school districts will find ways to bring all struggling children up to speed. This is an unrealistic expectation, given how quickly young brains develop.

Yes, those traditional measurements taken of students in third and eighth grade are important — as are the interventions and supports that schools provide to children who aren’t at grade level.

But let’s be honest, these interventions are like a “Hail Mary” pass in a football game. They rarely work.

Is Fresno Capable of Intelligently Attacking Poverty?

What’s really needed is a community intervention that results in more poor mothers receiving prenatal care and increasing family access to healthcare. We need more poor families learning what it takes for their youngsters to succeed in school and in life.

Along with this community intervention, there must be a renewed commitment to ending what former Mayor Alan Autry called the “Tale of Two Cities.”

Our leaders at City Hall and at the Fresno County Board of Supervisors must end the inequities of opportunity dividing Fresno and leading to despair, substance abuse, and gangs.

This is a tall order in Fresno, where the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality is pervasive. And often bragged about by people born with a golden spoon in their mouth.

Sparking that renewal begins with a conversation. The renewal becomes reality when voters demand that school boards put more resources into early education and elect candidates committed to doing so.

The renewal becomes reality when local elections become less about party partisanship, identity politics, and appealing to voter anger, and more about putting people into office with the brainpower and the desire to fix real problems.

This is a tall order in Fresno, where the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality is pervasive. And often bragged about by people born with a golden spoon in their mouth. A tall order, too, when some social justice warriors construct artificial barriers to sound public policy and engage in the very name-calling they claim to deplore.

Starting Out With Two Strikes Against You

The reality is, a poor kid born with two strikes against him or her can ill afford another strike. Many poor children successfully negotiate that difficult path. We should applaud them and hold them up as role models. But the data shows that many more fail. And the community that fails to help eliminate those strikes surely will continue to flail.

Gov. Gavin Newsom gets it. His first budget proposes about $1.8 billion for early learning and the well-being of children from newborns to 5-year-olds. His goal is to provide state-subsidized preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds over the next three years.

What Is Fresno Doing to Support Poor Children?

The question is, does Fresno get it?

Many local educators and healthcare professionals do. Certainly, the people behind Cradle to Career Fresno County do. Explore their website. Check out the local data and see how children who go into kindergarten already behind, fare later.

School districts and other local governments are now formulating budgets. All who care about Fresno should ask our leaders: What are you doing to give poor children a fighting chance?

3 Responses

  1. J Burns RN BSN

    I am a Registered Nurse who has worked at two hospitals here in Fresno the past 5 years. I have worked with adults and currently work with critically ill neonates. I am also a middle-aged father with an 11 year old daughter who is doing exceptionally well despite my own humble beginning.

    First, let me state that I agree with and identify the problems you have written about in your article. I can understand where you are coming from when you state that more poor mothers need to be receiving prenatal care, however, the problem isn’t lack of ‘access’ to prenatal care. Also, I agree with you that more poor families need to be learning what it takes for their children to succeed in school and in life. Yet, you point to City Hall, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, and Gov Gavin Newsoms’ preK proposal as a means of helping to tackle this problem.

    I’m curious, at what point would you identify the parent or parents as an obstacle to solving this problem? When would you place responsibility on the individual parent/s? Yes, we should support those parent/s who want pre-K education, but when we place the responsibility of raising and educating children on the State, we veer further from personal responsibility.

    I’m going to jump out on a limb now and tell you that the problem is a lot more dire than you know and the solution isn’t going to come from yet another bureaucratic solution to a complex problem.

    Here is just one example of a Fresno problem; there are a staggering amount of pregnant women abusing methamphetamine in Fresno. These children are often small for their gestational age, smaller head circumferences, have unpredictable hospital courses. These babies sometimes go back home with mom who may get social worker house call follow up. Sometimes this is the mothers 10th pregnancy and 8th child and she doesn’t have custody of any of her children due to neglect or abuse or homelessness.

    I wish you would visit me at the hospital, volunteer as one of our cuddlers, and you will hear countless stories from my fellow nurses and doctors of irresponsibility, neglect, and amorality.

    Politicians are not going to solve our crisis of culture here in Fresno. There exists in Fresno, among too many, a culture of moral relativism, state dependence, irresponsibility, drug abuse, and on. There is no bureaucratic program that is effectively tackling these. Clearly not everyone here in Fresno belongs in this catagory of amorality, but a significant number of our people do and they may be poor, but then some of the sweetest families I have been honored to meet are working poor or lower-middle income and when I discharge that baby into their care, I know that child has a bright future!

    Giving away yet more State treasure to people without strings attached, without requiring skin-in-the-game, without requiring something in return is going to become yet another failed policy that further exacerbates dependence and blame of other.

    I would be happy to discuss practical, low-cost high-impact policy ideas with you if you wished. For now, God help us.

    • Patricia Howe

      THANK YOU, J Burns, R.N. Your comments are heart-wrenching and really tell a story. My first reference with teen pregnancy etc was when my husband and I decided to put a fourplex on the section-8 program. I got a lesson in life! I had given up teaching and got my Masters in psychology and enjoyed counseling. I couldn’t help but carefully give some to a young daughter of an illegal. Mom had lied, forged papers and her age to enable her daughter to rent the apartment. She was expecting a third child with no father of any of them around. I encouraged her to seek schooling for the young child, and brought books explaining how important reading to children was and the importance as one was starting kindergarten that getting the child to school on time was so important! As a Rotarian and Pres., our club worked with Pinedale Elem. with a reading program and brought dictionaries , and the appreciation of those students was terrific. At the Pinedale Boys and Girs Club, we did a library and work areas with computers, for doing homework expressing the value of education. But fellowship was also important with TVs, and a pool table etc, Keeping kids in school and “out of gangs” was appreciated with hugs from parents when there was a party we put on for them. IVE LISTENED TO A LOT OF PARENTS WITH THE WORRY OF DRUG PROBLEMS and such – and hope one helped.
      My one daughter is a Dr. and the other a CFO and some of my grandkids are in the field of medicine. One a Pre Med student is presently in the Emergency Room at St. Agnes Hospital and she sees it all, another just passed her test to be an RN. My Grandson just graduated Magna Cum Laude a Biology major. He’s being discouraged from going into being a physician- so we’ll see. As one lives and hears about, witnesses and reads about too, You know well, how important good health and education is for children growing up- to enable the opportunity for success. I realize the problems of education in Fresno (and the entire valley). We have 52 languages with language specialists required and that’s great as learning English for the many illegal kids is mandatory- especially troubling for those that are illiterate. Cost factors for special programs are a problem as in many schools in areas of town you don’t want to ‘short change’, other students! It’s worrisome as Ca schools were number one and now – nationally at the near bottom sadly. The Governor states monies will be more available for early education- which is hopeful.
      Uncontrolled Illegal Migration isn’t reporte4d by the media and its “Effect” on communities, the schools, hospitals, social welfare services etc. It must be discussed. We could better help the children and parents if we could stop the uncontrolled illegal migration to Ca. and the other states, particularly here in Fresno County.. I pray that can happen!


  2. Howard K. Watkins

    The programs mentioned in the video are very important. However, the real key to children doing well in school and life is the time frame of conception to age two. If all prospective and new parents were educated on the science of why this time frame is so critical to a child having a positive, constructive, and healthy future (and followed what they learned), most all of our children would be doing well in school, graduate high school/college/trade school, and become productive members of the community. A major side benefit is that in a generation or two, taxpayers would save at the local and state levels literally hundreds of millions of dollars every year in reduced crime, other anti-social behaviors, and health care costs. Fresno Unified would start saving tens of millions of dollars within 5-10 years of educating their high school students on this subject.


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