FRESNO, Calif. — When I first saw Big Picture High School in Fresno, I immediately thought it wasn’t the school I wanted to go to. The building was dusty, and the paint spotty; the asphalt around campus had potholes and the athletic field was dead.
It was a sad picture, but Big Picture is more than meets the eye.
Big Picture focuses on preparing students for college and career pathways through active and personalized interest-based learning, academic rigor, professional experience and community involvement with an advisor or mentor.
Classes are available to high school juniors and seniors who attend Big Picture for half a day, either in the morning or afternoon, before returning to their home schools. Students at Big Picture select pathways based on personal interest.
I began attending Big Picture at the start of my junior year. I first got involved with The kNOw Youth Media because for my pathway, I had an internship that placed me with The kNOw.
Big Picture Fresno is a part of Big Picture Learning, a nonprofit founded by educators Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor in 1995 with a mission to incite and effect change in the U.S. educational system. Big Picture Learning now has over 60 schools nationwide.
Big Picture Fresno opened in 2008 and now has just over 200 students. The school’s small size means students have more chance to form meaningful connections to classmates and teachers. It also means more time for things like field trips, internships and school-wide rallies.
“The best thing about our small work environment … is that we teach students and [larger schools] teach class. Even if they wanted to teach students they wouldn’t be able to since they have a minimum of 200 students a day,” said Big Picture Fresno Principal Gerry Catanzarite.
Many students at Big Picture point to positive relationships with their teachers as the school’s biggest plus.
“Before I came to big picture, I used to always bump heads with my teachers,” said junior Ahmiah Willingham, 16, “but here at Big Picture, if something’s not right you can sit down with your teacher and work things out and everything’s cool.”
History teacher Marcus Rodriguez believes that this is what sets Big Picture apart. “It’s having good teachers and staff that care about the students,” he said. “Students learn at the respect level given. If you show respect then you get respect and learn something new. Students aren’t inmates and don’t deserve to be treated like inmates.”
There are also a lot of hidden gems at Big Picture behind its unpolished exterior, including a student-grown cultural garden and mural. It’s part of what gives students here a sense of ownership over their learning.
“Our school is beautiful in our own way,” said junior Mary Jane Davis, 16. Davis says students at Big Picture have more leeway to work on beautification projects at the school. “It’s not hard to put together a team to do it,” she explained, “and when we do upgrade it, we’ll respect it. There are not many schools that can say that.”