Kindergarten teacher, advocate for early childhood education

Blessy George: Advocate — Early Childhood Educator

As a kindergarten teacher in Harris County, Blessy George has had a first-hand view of the impact early childhood education can have on a child’s academic future. 

“At the end of kindergarten, there are high expectations from the students,” George said. “A lot of times, my struggling students at the end of the year are the ones who did not do pre-K. These kids just needed more time.” When it comes to time, there’s only so much a teacher can do to help all of their students achieve success. 

George says she works with her students in small groups of four or five students put together based on academic performance. But when she moves on from small groups and into classroom-wide lessons, some students struggle to follow along.

The fight for early education in Texas has been a long one, but an important one, according to education professionals. Funding for pre-K has been granted and cut every few years since 2011. However, things are beginning to look up after lawmakers recently put money back into the annual budget for full-day pre-k for qualifying students.

While the bill represents a step in the right direction for accessible pre-K, Erin Baumgartner believes real progress starts by addressing Texan’s misconceptions of these valuable programs.

“Right now, pre-K is not the norm,” said Baumgartner, an early education researcher for the Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University. “It’s not provided for all students. It’s provided for the at-risk populations, so it may be less common that everyone just assumes a child should be in pre-K somewhere. I think we should be talking about universal pre-K because it’s important to change the expectations and the norms around going to pre-K.”

To George and other teachers like her, pre-k could be considered a prerequisite to ensure success in kindergarten. “They need to learn certain things before they came into kindergarten,” she said. The prerequisites George wishes she saw in every student include identifying all 26 letters (upper case and lower case), identifying all letter sounds, identifying numbers 0-10, and writing your own name. “The challenge with pre-K is it’s not free for everybody — you have to qualify for it,” she said.

To qualify under the Texas bill passed in 2019, students have to be four-years-old, and must meet at least one of the following criteria: be from a low-income family, live in foster care or be homeless, have an active-duty military parent, be a child of a first responder or educator of the school district, or have limited English-speaking skills.

“There’s a lot of families who are not homeless or don’t qualify, but a lot of those families can’t afford to pay for pre-K, either,” George said. “Those are the kids who are really struggling.” To close the gaps for the kids “in the middle,” George works directly with the parents.

“A lot of these kids that did not do well, they end up repeating first grade,” George said. “So before that, I scare the parents into understanding that if they don’t do anything at home and they aren’t involved in their child’s academic success, then their child might have to repeat and no parent wants that.”

Educators like George and Baumgartner will continue to advocate for high-quality, accessible pre-K programs in Texas. Visit the links below to learn more about the importance of early childhood education.

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Petroleum engineering professional, temporarily unemployed

Paula Inman: Lifelong Learner — Job Hunter — Energy Professional

As a Texas A&M graduate in petroleum engineering, oil and gas was the foundation on which Paula Inman built her career. With more than two decades in the industry, Inman has seen the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry reflected in her own professional path. Her most recent down started after she was laid off by BP in August 2015, then laid off again by Hart Crowser in November 2016. After being laid off twice in 15 months, Inman entered her job search a bit weary, but still determined.

Inman focused her search in the oil and gas field, but also expanded out to other engineering-driven industries in an attempt to expand her possibilities. But nearly two years into her search, she was scammed by an overseas opportunity that nearly drained her severance from BP. “I was begging. I was in the dumps. I was like, ‘Okay, God, what do you want me to do and how am I supposed to overcome this and continue to look for a job?’” Inman said. 

Despite the scam, Inman pressed on and was referred to WorkFaith Connection through a friend volunteering with the Christian-centered organization. The mission of the organization is to encourage, educate, and equip disadvantaged job seekers with the skills and connections they need in order to gain employment. 

“I was distraught, but luckily they got me in and I was able to do an orientation class,” Inman said. “I thought, ‘I have a resume already, this shouldn’t be a problem.’ But I went in with the attitude, ‘Okay, I’ve got to take whatever I can from this organization.’” 

With resume building, practicing interviews, and professional coaching throughout the process, Inman feels she was able to receive the support she needed following the hurt she felt from the scam. Over a four-month period with the organization, Inman applied to “hundreds of jobs” and had five interviews that went on to second interviews, but none stuck, until she was able to find her current job as an engineering advisor with Occidental Petroleum Corporation, an international oil and gas exploration and production company headquartered in Houston.

“I found out I got the job through a voicemail. I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ It was total elation,” Inman said. “The excitement of, ‘Oh my God, I’m not a loser anymore.’ But throughout that whole process, WorkFaith never stopped praying for me and supporting me.” 

Even with strong experience in a healthy job market, people like Inman can still find themselves facing extended periods of unemployment in our region. Visit the links below to learn more about unemployment in the Houston area.

Additional resources