STEPHEN HEMELT — Crunch time for student success comes in 2nd, 3rd grades

Published 12:08 am Saturday, August 17, 2019

It’s go time for school-age children across Port Arthur and Mid-County.

Most of the students who have not already started classes are going to see their summers come to an end in less than 72 hours.

The new school year also means increased tension levels for students and parents, alike.

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And, frankly, those tensions seem to start at a much earlier age for today’s students as compared to those of generations past.

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, touched on the issue during this week’s South County Legislative Luncheon.

While addressing a crowd of more than 500 people in Port Arthur, he acknowledged his children were lucky to have had the opportunity to attend a “very high-quality pre-k,” which better prepared them for the rigors of elementary school.

“Kindergarten is not like it used to be,” Phelan said. “You are not finger painting and you are not drawing pictures. You are reading and you are doing math.

“If you are behind, then you fall behind and you continue to fall behind. By second grade, if you are not at a reading level equivalent to your peers, you are targeted for a dropout. It’s that real. Second and third grade is where the rubber meets the road.”

That message hits close to home for my wife and me. Our daughter starts third grade Monday.

This is her first time in Texas public schools, following our family’s last five years in Louisiana.

Our daughter Mallory is 9 years old and coming off a strong close to her second grade year, where she worked for and earned her first ever honor roll designation.

However, last year marked her second attempt at second grade and included a school shift from a small, Catholic school to a better-funded public school.

Now, we’ve moved her again (children have to put up with a lot when it comes to their parents) from a state nationally lambasted for its educational system to a state known more for its efforts to fund public education.

It was certainly great to read earlier this summer when The Port Arthur News broke the story that the Texas State University System OK’d tuition reductions at Lamar State College Port Arthur, Lamar State College Orange and Lamar Institute of Technology in Beaumont for the 2019-20 academic year.

All three schools will charge the same flat $1,995 tuition and fees plus the individual fees that each campus imposes.

Yet, for students like the ones Phelan mentioned this week, which includes my daughter, the hard part of keeping up with peers starts much sooner than college.

That’s why the May announcement from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen of a multibillion-dollar deal overhauling Texas’ school finance system is so important.

That overhaul includes money to fund full-day prekindergarten programs for low-income and other qualifying students across the state.

“It’s optional for the school districts,” Phelan told members of Jefferson County this week. “The state wants to step in and help pay for that, and I hope many of our school districts do so. Some are already doing it.”

Education starts early, and it takes a group effort that begins with involved parents, dedicated teachers, supporting districts and informed lawmakers.

My daughter’s summer is about to end, but her work, and those of students like her, has already begun.

  • Funny note from Tuesday’s South County Legislative Luncheon:Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick joked that Rep. Dade Phelan only attended the University of Texas because he could not get into Baylor. A couple of beats later when Phelan took the microphone, the representative responded: “I did get into Baylor, by the way; I just wanted to be able to dance, on occasion.”