DR. MARK PORTERIE — Extreme weather and inequality are here (Part 2 of 2)

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this column was published in the Weekend/Nov. 4 edition of the Port Arthur News. It is also available online at panews.com.

It was a blessing for us to work with our city and other vital entities to assist our community with shelter and food at such a dire time of need.

We often wonder what effect these extreme weather incidents have on our children. Children do not have a choice when an evacuation is called or a fire breaks out, or unforeseen flooding occurs; they have to follow their parents or guardians at the time to safety.

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Sometimes that means being rescued by boat and/or helicopter. Some of our citizens had to ride in city garbage trucks to safety.

Some of our children had to wade in knee or chest deep water to higher ground and it seems like I even recall one of our students pushed his infant sibling on an air mattress as he and his family walked to safety. We cannot possibly understand what they were thinking or feeling.

Our students spent time living in shelters or hotels, or even moved in with family or friends in safer cities until their homes were livable again.

Students may have enrolled in schools where they were located and become new students for a few days or weeks, having to navigate being in a strange place during the day and an unfamiliar place during evenings, nights and weekends.

And once our students and families returned and rebuilt their lives here at home, some of our students remained traumatized and struggled with each instance of bad weather–especially thunderstorms and hard rains. We cannot possibly understand what they were thinking or feeling.

Someone recently mentioned to me that we have to think outside of the box.

Well, is it thinking outside of the box to think that every individual no matter the color of their skin, economic status, ethnic group, has something to offer to our community?

Does thinking outside of the box mean that we need to vote for laws that will protect the rights of all?

Does thinking outside of the box mean we focus our mindset on helping our neighbors and ourselves to strengthen personal responsibility and accountability?

Is thinking outside of the box believing that a politician can learn to work across party lines to come to a consensus on issues that are best for the entire country?

We have witnessed when there is a crisis in other parts of the world, the United States of America is there to assist global citizens in giving human capital, billions of dollars in financial support, and time spent on visits to the damaged area; we even lift up prayers for the victims as well.

So, if we are a country that other countries can depend on for support in times of crises, why is it so hard for us to work together within our own country, state, city and community to increase self-sufficiency for all.

Why is it so difficult for us to create a system that will ensure that all high school graduates are guaranteed a place in post-secondary colleges/universities, any branch of the military or the career of their choice, without a single graduate thinking the option of just sitting around and waiting for a handout is the best option to take?

There is a difference between a hand up and a hand out. Helping more disadvantaged people obtain better education and careers is a hand up.

So that when they see they can work to earn a living that will afford them the means to finance their adult lifestyle, they can be taught how to better prepare for natural disasters that may cause them to be temporarily displaced without them having to depend on a handout.

We have all heard the old saying that we are better and stronger together than apart–collectively, instead of individually.

How can we work together to strengthen our students so that eventually our cities, states, and country are stronger–together?

So that the basic needs of everyone are met and we are all thriving, and not just struggling to survive …

Extreme weather and inequality for our citizens is an important topic in southeast Texas; but there are other extreme concerns that, if addressed, would focus on safety and security in extreme weather conditions; safety while we are standing in a grocery store or a bowling alley, or sitting in a movie theater; safety for our children while they are attending school and extracurricular activities; and more.

We must address the mentally challenged so they are just not standing, sitting or laying on the side of the road, underneath overpasses, in abandoned areas of our cities, or anywhere else that is unsafe and outdoors.

It is the responsibility of us all to not become complacent to these community concerns. And if we just happen to be in a position that we are not typically affected, or think we are not affected, by any of these challenges, we must not become comfortable overlooking what we are faced with every day.

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