BPEA Beginnings Narrative
Jon F. Morse, Sr., Founder/Executive Director Emeritus
When I was asked to be a training facilitator for the After School Program at Cooper Middle School in the Fresno Unified School District in 2003, I met a young man, David Bethea, who handed me a book entitled “One Kid at a Time”. David said I must read it because of my passion for working with youth of all ages.
So, after getting home that day I picked up the book and read the entire thing in one setting. At the end of that reading, I was convinced that the Big Picture methodology of Leaving to Learn by weekly internships was the type of school that was needed in Fresno. Little did I realize that it would now take me another 6 years to see this school come into existence. Prior to this encounter, I had felt intuitively that something new might be coming my way, and sure enough, Big Picture was the something new!
I immediately got to work on this idea repeatedly calling Elliot Washor, Co-Founder of the very first Big Picture School in Providence, Rhode Island in 1995. Elliot finally agreed to meet with me and some of my constituents. After that meeting, he was convinced that having a Big Picture school in Fresno could work. In 2005, I went to Providence, RI and met with Dennis Littky, the other Co-Founder of the Big Picture Learning organization. With the help of Bill McEwen, Fresno Bee Journalist, I also wrote a newspaper article about the Big Picture Learning organization and the methodology for helping kids be successful in their educational pursuits through weekly internships in the areas of their passion for learning.
During the early years of this pursuit, I met Dr. Gerry Catanzarite, Ed.D., while he was a principal of an Alternative school in the Fresno Unified School District. It wasn’t until about 5 years later after he retired that I approached him about joining me in starting a Big Picture charter school. After he decided to join me, along with many other community supporters, we began working on the charter school document for the Fresno Unified School District. We met almost every day at my home for an entire year writing the charter for the school, only to be turned down by the Fresno Unified School District in January 2009.
Because of the state educational policies, we were now required to take our proposed charter to the Fresno County Office of Education to seek their approval. Dr. Larry Powell as Superintendent had already read the book One Kid at a Time and had informed me that he would support this type of educational methodology in Fresno.
So, after being turned down by the Fresno Unified School District in January 2009, we were finally authorized by the Fresno County Office of Education in March 2009 and opened our doors on September 8, 2009 beginning with around 68 middle and high school students, while located at the St. Alphonsus educational site at 1207 S. Trinity St., Fresno.
During our early years we faced many challenges, most of them in finances and the number of students a school needs in order to stay financially well off. We put in many long days, nights and weekends in those first 3-4 years, but we never lost our passion and desire to see our school eventually become successful academically and financially.
In 2012, with the financial assistance of the Fresno Catholic Diocese, Dr. Cat and I were able to “break ground” and add some much needed educational buildings to our school site.The photos being viewed will show how much “hard work and effort” went into providing us with much needed space for our increasing student numbers.
So, currently at the end of this 2017-2018 school year we will have, with the efforts of many individuals, been in existence for nine years. We have grown to the point that we now have a K-8 Big Picture Elementary & Middle School, a High School grades 9-12 and an Adult Program for High School Diplomas, Careers, and ESL training, now totaling 500+ students.