Fresno County’s battle against the scourge of fentanyl abuse and overdose deaths has a new weapon in its arsenal, thanks to four Mendota boys who developed a prize-winning app, FentaKNOW, as students at Mendota Junior High School.
Jonathan Alfaro, Jimmy Fuentes, Gerardo Portillo, and Anthony Trinidad were recognized Tuesday with a proclamation from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors for their first-place win earlier this summer in the junior high category of the MESA National Engineering Design Competition, Designing for Equity.
Their project’s goal is to help save lives and reduce fentanyl’s impact, starting in their westside community and eventually spreading throughout Fresno County. In Mendota alone, the boys learned, there were 15 deaths due to fentanyl overdoses over a two-year period.
The four students, each wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, tie, and dark pants, flanked their adviser, Carlos Tamayo, at the podium during Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting.
Tamayo, the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teacher, said the students had put in more than 1,000 hours after school to develop their project.
“These boys deserve the recognition,” he said. “They’ve worked really, really hard. And not only is this a victory, a part of the engineering design competition, this is something that we strongly believe could be used at a greater scale and implemented in larger communities and help with the fentanyl crisis.”
When asked if they wanted to say anything, the boys smiled but stayed silent.
“They’re a little bit shy. They got intimidated by the cameras,” Tamayo said, referring to the abundance of news cameras in the room.
Project Started with Research
According to their project’s design brief, the students conducted surveys of 207 people at the local farmers market and determined that nearly 85% of Mendota residents could not identify overdose symptoms. Many have difficulty accessing healthcare information because it is primarily provided in English, but 96% of Mendotans speak only Spanish.
The app, which is in English and Spanish, includes a mapping function so users can locate the nearest source of fentanyl antidote and also can be connected with 911 for emergency help.
In addition to the app, the students also were judged on their product pitch and their technical presentation and interview. Their materials included a project poster and an introductory video.
Best and Brightest
Fresno County needs to encourage more students to be interested in math, engineering, science, and technology, and it’s not too soon for potential benefactors to be thinking about how to get scholarship assistance to such deserving students as the four Mendota boys, board chairman Sal Quintero said.
Supervisor Nathan Magsig offered an open invitation for the four to someday work for the county.
“Fresno County is always looking for bright minds and you clearly have them,” he said. “And so we would be lucky to have you become part of the Fresno County team if you choose to move in that direction in the future. So there’s your formal invitation to join our team.”
Members of the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office stood at the back of the board meeting room to show their support for the student project. District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, who was unable to attend the meeting, has spoken out repeatedly about the need to raise awareness about the hazards of fentanyl and the number of deaths it has caused in the county.
DA’s office spokeswoman Taylor Long said afterward that DA representatives have not yet met with the students but could soon to learn whether the county can play a role in getting the app distributed beyond Mendota.