Four years ago, when she was 14, Graciela Pacheco didn’t realize she was pregnant until her last trimester. When she told her parents, they threw her out of the house, did not come to the hospital when Graciela’s baby Alyssa Sherlynne was born, and provide little support today.
Her middle school had not prepared her with sex education and had nothing to offer her in terms of pre-natal support. Her advisor told her, leave school.
She did. Which, she says, made her much more vulnerable to failure.
“I come from nothing,” she told our guest today, reporter Mackenzie Mays of the Fresno Bee. “On paper, I still am nothing. I know education is the way out.
So, after the baby was born, Graciela enrolled in a program designed for people in their 20s or 30s, involving intense once-a-week meetings with a teacher and lots of homework. At 17, she had her high school degree early, from Fresno’s Central Learning Adult School Site, and now, at 18 she is a student at Fresno Community College. Graciela is also taking extra courses to become a Spanish/English translator, and works as a server at Panda Express. Her baby daddy’s family occasionally helps out with the now 3 year old Alyssa, but for the most part, Graciela has achieved survival and an upward trajectory for herself and her daughter on her own.
Her story, like so many of the personal histories that inform Mackenzie Mays’ series of reports on sex education in the Fresno Unified School District, the fourth-largest in the State of California, indict a school system that simply hasn’t been there for its pregnant students, before, during or after their pregnancies.
And this is despite the fact both Fresno and the surrounding school districts of the Central Valley regularly register among the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease in the State.
As Mackenzie has reported, California has a state law, the California Healthy Youth Act, passed in 2015, that requires that all school districts provide comprehensive and unbiased sex education, including teaching students specifically about “all legally available pregnancy outcomes” including abortion, and requiring lessons that cover all sexual orientations.
That’s the law, and the school board in Fresno says they are following it, but the Board makes it obvious they are doing so grudgingly, against their own convictions; and in Sacramento, State Education officials say they have neither the personnel nor the budget to monitor the results in, Fresno or anywhere else in the state. Reality is left to be whatever it will be.
Mackenzie Mays is the education reporter at The Fresno Bee. Previously, she covered education at The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, focusing on rural communities. She is the recipient of a 2015 John Swett Award for Media Excellence from the California Teachers Association. Her fellowship project will focus on the Central Valley’s high teen pregnancy rates, and the impact of sex education. She is a Heath Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.