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MARK PORTERIE — Key to our children’s growth is reading encouragement

To save our children we must make education a family value again. Education has to be looked upon as the only sure way out of poverty.

Reading is essential to education. It is a key to success. Not just reading words but understanding what is being read.

Education of students must become more than a platform and talking points for our politicians at campaign time. It is en vogue for every politician to write a book. But we don’t hear any detailed plans on how they plan to address the need for the voters to be able to read and understand the books they are publishing.

Some want to put the entire burden on the school system, but this is a challenge for our entire community. We spend so much time dividing our country based on us vs. them, rich vs. poor, black vs. white, haves and have nots. The children who are our future have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Our politicians are so busy beating each other up on who has the most sexual harassment settlements and dark money finances, that the most important resources we have never gets talked about. When has a politician been asked, “when was the last time you took time to encourage a child to read?” The same division pulling apart our democracy that we see on television every day is leaving the least of us in the dust. There is a crisis of leadership in this country that has no path to address the real decline of our society, which is the value that is placed on the education of our students.

Some politicians have endorsed the position that charter schools are the answer. However, providing an option to ease the burden for the few who can afford private school is not the best answer. Setting up charter schools without the oversight and constraints that public schools have is not the answer.

It only drains the public school system of the best and brightest. A country that put the first man on the moon and has almost total control of our children through technology can and should make the education of our children a priority. We are in the middle of a voting season.

We must all vote! I repeat, we must all vote! However, do so with the notion of who will make this world, our community a better place. Not who is the most popular but who has proven himself or herself to be a servant leader with everyone’s best interest at heart, including the interest of the least of us.

We as a public-school system must rise to the challenge of educating students with issues that we have never seen before. We must rise to the challenge of increasing family involvement.

During my childhood, as probably with many of you, I learned to read at home. Today, our children come from vastly different backgrounds and home lives.

When I was growing up there was one TV in the house with three channels. Today, the average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television. That is more time in front of a television than it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree.

While 15 minutes of independent reading per day exposes children to more than 1 million words of text in a year. When was the last time you saw a child sitting quietly reading a book?

Children playing games on a phone or iPad is an everyday sight.

We have challenges today that I would have never dreamed I would have encountered as an educator. We currently have children coming from all over the world. The students are coming from all over, not just Mexico, the majority are coming from Honduras. But other countries that are represented in the PAISD are El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, China, India, Italy, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Ecuador and Isreal.

For the 2019-2020 school year, our non-English newcomers in grades 3-12 are 121 students. There are some who are 16/17 years old without any prior formal schooling. Last grade completed were fifth and sixth grades.

These students are detained in the border and are court ordered to attend school so we must enroll. We have some in elementary school that have never gone to school and now are 11 or 12 years old.

The challenge of educating our students is not just a challenge for our schools, but a challenge for our entire community. Time has passed for us to just come together to talk about our children’s issues.

Time has passed for us to give to unknown organizations in the name of children with no accountability. Thank you to each of you who are here today. I ask when was the last time you stopped by the elementary school near your home and offered to volunteer and read with a struggling child or volunteer in some way?

We need you; our doors are open and you are welcomed to join the fight to save our students, one child at a time.

The fight to educate all children is real and not one that can be fought on one side nor has a ready solution. However, I have pledge to do my part and endure to the end. We need you to do the same.

Dr. Mark L. Porterie is Superintendent of Schools for the Port Arthur Independent School District. He can be reached at mporterie@paisd.org.