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Port Arthur education leaders talk campus return need

Two of Port Arthur’s leading educators are advocating quite strongly for in-person instruction with eyes on a basic return to normalcy that each said is essential.

Dr. Mark Porterie, Port Arthur Independent School District superintendent, said March 16, 2020, marked a “forever change” in the way teachers educate children.

Most schools at all levels introduced some form of or completely switched to remote education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a process many are struggling to come back from.

“When the doors closed for what we thought would be a couple of weeks, never would we have imagined 14 months later our education system would still be divided,” Porterie said. “Data shows virtual learning and the social effects of the pandemic are detrimental to the young lives across our world. For years we have known the brick-and-mortar school buildings meant more than receiving just a textbook education.”

U.S. Rep Randy Weber (R-Friendswood), right, speaks to attendees following Thursday’s Pathways to Success luncheon at the Carl A. Parker Multipurpose Center in Port Arthur. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)

Porterie said the disconnect between schools and students is causing a learning loss, anxiety and depression “for a large percentage of our children.”

Porterie’s remarks were made Thursday at the Carl A. Parker Multipurpose Center during the Port Arthur Education Foundation Pathways to Success Luncheon.

Hosted on the Lamar State College Port Arthur campus, college President Dr. Betty J. Reynard was uniquely positioned to breakdown the coronavirus’ impact on local college education.

“The bottom line is it hasn’t been positive, I can tell you that,” Reynard said, noting overnight the faculty had to switch from traditional classroom instruction to offering every course possible online.

She said classes that could not be done online continue on campus in a safe and socially distanced manner.

She noted self reporting by students and faculty usually resulted in 2 to 3 COVID cases a week for the college; however, that trend has dropped to none in recent weeks.

“I am hoping that trend continues for a long time,” Reynard said. “I am ready to come back to the school in the fall. That is our hope. We still have online classes scheduled this summer. We are hoping between all of the safety protocols that we are taking and the vaccines that everybody is taking that we will be prepared to open and have a typical academic year beginning in the fall.”

College updates

Between 2018 and 2020, Lamar State College Port Arthur applied for and received multiple grants, totaling $17 million.

This includes ongoing construction at the armory to create a craft training center that should be finished by summer of 2022.

A commercial driving, education and testing center is being developed, and the next step is selecting a project contractor.

Reynard said that should be set by fall and the project should be finished in summer of 2022.

“When that project is finished, we will be the only commercial driving testing center in this region,” she said. “Those of you who have to hire people to drive trucks, buses and things like that know what a challenge it is right now to get those people trained and licensed.”

Lamar State has been classified as a Hispanic serving institution, which means increased funds over a three-year period to support initiatives for students on our campus.

This includes more tutors, supplemental instruction, software packages and events for students to provide different career paths.

“We are delighted to be one year into that grant, and we are about the create a home for the people who work in that grant,” Reynard said about construction taking place at The Ruby Fuller Building.

“It’s about 75 percent complete and that building, when it is finished, will have tutoring centers, classrooms, computer labs, meeting space for students and courses students typically take early in their education. It is beautiful inside, and we are keeping all the stained glass windows. It is really breath taking. We will have an open house probably in July that the community will be invited to attend.”