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Teachers talk about missed class time, find ways to connect with students

Port Arthur Independent School District officials said Gov. Greg Abbott’s order this week to remain closed until May 4 comes as no surprise, which is why they left their return-to-campus date as “indefinite.”

Rookie Teacher of the Year Elisabeth Tatum said while she agrees with the order, it does not keep her from missing her third grade students at Tyrrell Elementary.

Elisabeth Tatum facetimes one of her third-grade students.

“This is my first year teaching, so I was really excited,” she said. “I spent a lot of time, money and resources on my class. I have a precious class and they have all worked hard during the year. It makes me sad to see this (pandemic) overshadowing that.”

Dana Bodden, a 15-year veteran at Lakeview Elementary, said communication and parental involvement has been key during this time.

“I try to tell the parents to stay safe and don’t give up,” she said. “This is something we’ve never gone through before, so we need to keep up hope, and parental involvement is very important. I hate that it is under these circumstances, but this helps them get involved and see what their child is doing and what they are learning.”

Superintendent Mark Porterie said PAISD officials continue to support the community by moving forward and communicating with parents and students.

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Highland Park Elementary teacher Geri Hotchkiss saw her students for the first time this week since spring break via Zoom.

The sight brought tears to her eyes.

“The hardest part of all this is being away from our students,” she said. “We miss them so much. We are used to having that time with them and it’s hard to not be able to continue teaching where we left off, so being able to see them and visit them is great. It helps us feel like we are connected even in a small way.”

Hotchkiss is hoping to be able to see her students one more time

“These students become our own kids,” she said. “It’s a little family in each classroom. We definitely want to have more time to love on them before we send them off to the next grade.”

In a joint statement by Assistant Superintendents Mike Laird and Stuart Kieschnick, district officials believe the decision to prolong school closure, although tragic, is imperative to slowing down the deadly pandemic.

“This season that we are in is new territory for all of us,” the statement said. “Nederland ISD serves 5,200 unique and talented children, young adults and teenagers. We are a community that is resilient and we will get through this together.”

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Superintendent Mike Gonzales said he expected the governor’s decision sooner or later, but is relieved the state is finally taking control.

“For weeks, the governor and education agency continued to give the schools local control,” he said. “They gave us the authority to close schools down as needed based on information provided by health authorities. We felt like it was a tough burden.”

Gonzales said he is hoping against all odds to return to school in May.

“We need to know that there is still hope for us to have school this year,” he said. “We have so many students who enjoy coming to school and seniors who are missing out on so many exciting things that they should be experiencing. We continue to pray that we come back and try to finish the school year with some sense of normalcy.”

Holly Sartin, a first grade elementary school teacher at Ridgewood, is craving that normalcy.

“I love what I do,” she said. “I love my job. These students are like my own kids. I always say I’ve got 24 kids, two in my house and 22 at school, so it’s hard not seeing them.”

In her 27 years in education, Sartin said there is no place she’d rather be right now than back in school.

“It’s just devastating for me and my kiddos,” she said. “First grade is such an important year for them and I know their parents are doing a great job, but I want them back.”