Mary and Jon Morse Sr. at the Smittcamp Alumni House.

“One kid at a time”

By VICTORIA CISNEROS, Student Writer

Jon (1969, ’90) and Mary (1994, ’96) Morse have been working with troubled youth for over fifty years. Their successes have manifested in both the students they have served and the charter school they built from the ground up — Fresno’s Big Picture High School.

The two first began working with kids as youth ministers after getting married in 1965. Jon graduated from Fresno State in 1969 with a degree in psychology, but soon left the Fresno area with Mary to pursue their ministry.

When the two returned in the late 1980s, Jon began working with the Clovis Unified Adult School and realized that a master’s degree in counseling was his next step. At the same time, Mary enrolled at Fresno State to pursue a bachelor’s degree in family living and subsequently a master’s degree in counseling.

After graduating, the two moved to Madera where Jon took over a program for troubled students, many of whom had only attended school for ten days during the previous school year.

“As I worked with them and worked on building those relationships with them and really letting them feel like somebody cares…I tracked their progress and 75% of the kids had a 2.75 GPA… and the attendance we had over 90% and no behavioral problems.”

Although Jon’s success with his students was incredible, his reach was only so far. Mary encouraged him to leave education and begin consulting as a means to further his success.

“I told him, you need to be teaching people how to do what you do because yes, you’ve got this classroom and its great, but what could you do if more people knew how to do it.”

The two began their consulting business, Success Strategies Unlimited, in 2000, but their life took a U-turn, leading them right back to education only a few years later.

When Jon was guest speaking at a local middle school, a student presented him with a book on Big Picture Learning. After reading the book and learning the Big Picture philosophy, “one kid at a time,” he knew that he and Mary had to start a Fresno charter.

“What this school does is finding out more of what [the students are] interested in and guiding them…It was really about finding a place where these kids could fit and follow their dreams instead of following the dreams of society,” Mary explained.

“We’re getting kids into various industries… I’ve got two students [at Fresno State] who are working with the Quarter Horse Unit, and I’ve got another student who is going to be working with one of the professors of biology and working with genetics,” Jon said.

Both Jon and Mary are honored to be able to serve and invest in today’s youth and are humbled by their students who “begin to replicate how [we]’ve treated them.”

“The reason for working with the kids is they’re so impressionable. Especially in those early years, where if they don’t have someone that can mentor them… they’re going to find a family somewhere, and we try to create that for them,” Mary said.

Today, Jon also serves as adjunct faculty in the Fresno State Criminology Department and is heavily involved in Project Rebound, a program that supports students previously involved with the criminal justice system.

Even at the college level, his philosophy remains the same.

“We can’t change the world, but we can change one kid at a time.”

Related:
The first of many: A principal’s passion for education
Truly Reviving Our Youth: A blueprint to live by
Restoring lives and Downtown Fresno with food