STEPHEN HEMELT — Attitude, preparation needed for student & teacher sanity

Published 12:37 am Saturday, February 20, 2021

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Way back in September, Port Arthur Newsmedia caught up with Helena Park Elementary Principal Charlotte Junot as she was welcoming students to school on the first day of the 2020-21 academic year.

Helena Park, along with all other NISD schools, started in-person instruction a month later than originally planned in order to spend more time in staff training.

The in-house education was focused on the skills needed to, as effectively as possible, be prepared to serve students in remote and in-person classroom environments.

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“This is something that we’ve been planning for,” Junot told us five months ago. “With it being half a year since we’ve seen our students, that’s the heartbeat of our school, and we’ve missed them.”

That preparation came into play this week for Junot and many other educators across Port Arthur and Mid-County, forced to jump into virtual learning while dealing with a hard freeze, rolling blackouts and a true lack of running water.

After the challenges 2020 handed out, it’s not surprising anymore to deal with something brand new.

Junot told me this week that Helena Park was fortunate to have one-on-one devices to send home with every single student prior to the freeze, which provided the tools needed to participate in lessons this week.

She credited teachers who took care of their own families and households while also performing this week in their roles as educators.

“Knowing that our students are still able to be engaged in learning virtually through this has been great,” Junot said. “Communication modes allow (teachers) to be in constant contact with students and families. They are at the students’ disposals if they have any questions. If they need anything, they are able to interact and communicate with students, not losing some of their class time, whether it’s review or lessons and activities they need to do.”

Everything experienced from COVID and hurricanes put everyone in the mode of adaptability, so teachers are much more confident switching to virtual learning.

“They are fully prepared now to make transitions as needed,” Junot said. “It’s been very positive. It makes us appreciate much more of the support of our community and the parents and families when they put their students in our hands each day.”

Fourth grade teacher Jenna Dean, a sixth year veteran at Helena Park, said she would have never imagined losing a week of school due to ice and snow, but wasn’t particularly phased by the enormity of everything.

“The biggest challenge is worrying about all of our students during this time and making sure they have the necessities,” she told me. “Lots of our students are with us and communicating. They understand we have to do virtual, but we are not pressuring them for it. Internet can be a challenge whenever we are losing power.”

Dean said many of her students and their parents expressed positive mindset, doubling down on a statement like, “we are going to get this done.”

She said many families are proactive and appreciate teachers who are not pressuring them.

“They know what needs to be done and they are willing to do it,” Dean said. “Even given the situation with students without water and power — I have experienced the same things myself. We are taking everything with a grain of salt and making the situation as best as we possibly can.”

Dean said everyone knows they are in the same boat and nobody, necessarily, has it better than anyone else.

“We are here to make sure everyone’s needs are met to the best possibility,” she said. “It just can’t work if they are not in the right mindset and don’t feel safe.”

As the parent of children in two schools that both elected to continue with remote learning this week, I appreciate the effort made by teachers and administrators to continue lesson planning and homework.

Getting the job done and stepping up to a challenge despite difficult circumstances is an important lesson on its own. It’s one we should never miss the opportunity to teach.

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia and publisher of the Port Arthur News. Reach him at or 409-721-2445.