Tisha Moritz has spent the past six months schooling her timid 4-year-old on the beneficial
rudiments of a pre-kindergarten existence and the fun-filled worthiness of BFFs.
Pint-sized Leah, puffy cheeked with eyes the size of golf balls, is an only child with a batch of
cousins as close as Benbrook but in the past year or so has seen them only three times – twice
behind the tinted window of a Ford Explorer.
Early on August 16, the first day of school, she arrived at Bebensee Elementary in a frilly
white dress, hair up in a pony-tail, looking as though she was about to walk a plank into a sea of
“A little nervous,” says mom.
“A little?” quips dad.
Never has attending the first day of school been fraught with this sort of anticipation and
weariness; as if trekking a child into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar kids governed by
unfamiliar adults weren’t enough, here they are combating a mutating virus with its own survival
Seems we’ve launched into the third academic year that is being upended by a pandemic
filled with uncertainty.
Still, Moritz was never more certain with the choice of sending her little one to pre-K, feeling
that another year isolated at home would be detrimental to her social and emotional growth.
“She has a fun time with mom and dad, but what has it been like for her in the last two years
to have only been with mom?” Moritz says. “She’s four, which means her entire existence has
been with her parents pretty much exclusively. Is that a good thing?”
Even before the pandemic, Arlington ISD was nudging parents to consider pre-K, but this year
it feels more like a push, albeit a kinder, gentler one.
Enrollment of children three and four, the typical pre-K age, is up in AISD, thanks to that push,
starting with Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, who, during the district’s annual Convocation
said this year’s buzzword is acceleration, not remediation.
“When we think of our students who have had loss of learning, loss of engagement in some
cases,” Cavazos says, “we know we have a challenge and we need to accelerate.”
Last year was the district’s first in offering full day pre-K.
It was tough, to say the least.
“Parents didn’t really send their kids to pre-K,” Cavazos admits. “We know that a full day
pre-K is a game changer. They have a better preparation for success.”
Cavazos spent the first day of school touring pre-K classes at Bebensee along with Principal
Charlotte Carter and Dr. Jackeline Orsini, director of the Department of Early Childhood
They spoke of getting students who, like Leah, have been socially sequestered and require a
big catch up.
“Pre-K gives you the chance to build strong literacy and math skills, sure, but more
importantly is the social emotional component, which is very important at this age,” says Orsini.
“How to meet new friends, how to share, how to express your feelings, how to handle your
emotions. It’s all equally important.”
You can’t do that sitting at home alone.
AISD is focusing more on social emotional learning, which helps build self-awareness and
interpersonal skills to cope with daily challenges.
It’s never too early to start.
When students arrived at Bebensee they were clapped into the building by teachers, AISD
administrators and members of nearby New Life Fellowship Church.
“It was awesome, tearful,” says Bebensee Principal Charlotte Carter. “This school is the apex
of the community. They call our playground here the park. They come on weekends with their
It’s a community school lifted by the community.
Which is what social emotional learning is all about.
Says Carter: “What a great place for these young preschoolers to start.”