The city of Fresno doesn’t fit the California stereotype; it can be a tough city that raises tough kids.
Kids like Jose Flores.
“A lot of the violence around here, the drugs,” Flores says.
Flores attends Duncan Polytechnical High School, and he’s on the welding track.
All the students at Duncan are enrolled in a Career Technical Education.
“We know that this is what our community needs, and frankly, this is what our community wants," said Jeremy Ward, who runs the College & Career Readiness program for Fresno Unified School District. "Jobs related to college really only speaks to a portion of the jobs that exist in the United States today. There are many skilled professions that are very well paid that have nothing to do with going to college."
But it’s not just students at Duncan. Almost half of the students in Fresno are enrolled in CTE programs. The district thinks it’s one of the best ways to prepare students, who may not go to college, for some other real-world opportunities.
“Students that are engaged in career technical education, there’s a heavy amount of data that shows that there’s a higher degree of graduation and that there’s a higher degree of post-secondary success, because of the experience they have by participating in a CTE program,” said Ward.
At Duncan, students can enroll in welding, truck tech, manufacturing, and even nursing.
“They are in a CNA program, by the time they graduate, they’ll have the requirements they need to take their state competency evaluation exam,” said Jodi Uyeg, a nursing teacher.
“We get to work with real residents and practice the skills that we’ve learned here there; that way we’re ready for our CNA test in May,” said Evelyn Gamble, a nursing student.
The idea is that these CTE programs give students a ton of options to join the workforce or go to college. Options they might need as rural areas like Fresno keep recovering from the recession.
Just ask Ashley Swearingen, the former mayor of Fresno.
“We went through as the city of Fresno, five years of consistent budget cuts," Swearengin said. "In some years, we were doing two or three budgets a year just to try and keep up with plummeting revenues, and of course, expenses were still going up."
Swearingen has been working hard to try and help the area recover, but it hasn’t been easy.
“We’ve struggled for a long time," said Swearingen. "I mean, this is a place that’s had chronic, double-digit unemployment for literally 30 to 40 years.”
But schools like Duncan give kids in more rural areas a way to earn a good living or continue their education.
For Flores, this opportunity was a big deal.
“Growing up a lot of friends being killed a lot of gang violence,” said Flores.
He’s been to more than a few funerals for friends his own age.
“A lot of middle school friends that you know we were close, but we all went to different high schools," said Flores. "They all started doing their own things and even a couple of them are dead now, you know? It’s sad to say but that’s the life the chose. You think I’m going to know these people 30 years down the line and you know, it’s over right there."
But he credits his family and the opportunities he’s had to keep him off the streets and alive.
“Being around a lot of those people, it’s drags you in there,” he said.
Instead, his future and Fresno’s is bright.