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Third Grade Can Be A Stressful Year For Students, And Their Parents

Lucero is finishing up the third grade at her school in Alamance County. It's a high-pressure year -- not just for her, but for her mom too.
Lisa Philip

Every day when Ismari Molina was pregnant with her first daughter, she saw what she calls “the big star” on her way home from work.

“And I would just touch and rub my belly, my baby, and I would say, ‘Lucero,’” said Molina, who immigrated from El Salvador to Alamance County when she was 11. “For Hispanic families, Lucero is like the main star, the biggest star that you see in the sky.”

After their daughter was born, Molina and her husband decided the name they had initially chosen didn’t quite fit.

“And then in the end, my husband is like, ‘What about what you always say to her when you’re coming back home?’” Molina said. “So that’s how we picked her name. That’s kind of like, the main star -- my main star.”

'Maybe I Wasn't Doing That Well': Supporting A Child Through Academic Struggle

Lucero is now nine-years-old and close to the end of the third grade, a high-pressure year for students and their parents. It’s filled with testing and academic standards, and the threat of being held back.


Credit Lisa Philip / WUNC
Lucero, a third grader in Alamance County, reads aloud to two of her classmates.

Molina is learning to navigate this world to help her daughter through it. But she says juggling her roles as a full-time worker, full-time parent, and full-time wife hasn’t been easy.

"We have struggled through how to figure out her learning process,” said Molina, 31, who works as a breastfeeding aide for Alamance County. “She was very inconsistent about knowing things one day, and the next day or two to three days later, she would not know the same thing that she knew before. And later on she would come back and she would know it.”

Molina said her daughter would come home from school around 2 or 3 o’ clock and do homework until 9, sometimes 10 o’ clock.   

“It was ridiculous,” she said. “It was a struggle. And it was just very overwhelming.”

I, as a parent, also want to make sure that she's learning the basics. It's a lot of responsibility. -Ismari Molina

Molina consulted her family physician, a neurologist, and an even an eye doctor, to try and figure out Lucero’s behavior and why she wasn’t retaining information. She said they couldn't find any significant obstacles to her learning.

“There was one time that I just started Googling things trying to figure out, what could it be,” she said. “I even thought it was my way of teaching or my way of being a parent to her, that maybe I wasn’t doing that well.”

Molina’s husband told her not to feel so much pressure. He said both Lucero and their six-year-old younger daughter will “do great in life,” as long as they receive love and support at home.

“But I, as a parent, also want to make sure that she’s learning the basics,” Molina said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Molina has advocated for interventions from Lucero’s school to support her daughter’s learning, like more one-on-one attention from educators. This year, she feels like that extra support is in place.

“I just feel a relief,” Molina said. “I feel like, 'Okay, if there’s anything I need to know, if there’s anything I need to work, then we will do it'.”

She said everything educators have told her she should be doing to support them, like helping with Lucero's homework, is what she has been doing.

“So that makes me feel good knowing, 'Okay, I’m on the right track with this',” she said.

“I just want her to be happy, I want her to grow, I want her to make a change in life,” Molina said. “I want her to, and this is for both of my daughters of course, you know, I want the best for them. And I’m sure all the parents want that. I mean, who wouldn’t?”

Credit Lisa Philip / WUNC
Lucero concentrates on a reading exercise in her third grade classroom in Alamance County.


Lisa Philip is an occasional contributor to WUNC. Previously, she covered education for the station and covered schools in Howard County, Maryland for the Baltimore Sun newspapers.
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