For Arlington teen, this first day of class has fewer tears, bigger dreams

ARLINGTON -- Kevin Langford sees himself as the owner of a small shop on a Florida beach, selling flip-flops, running shoes and bikes and soaking up the sun and surf.

As he heads into his senior year today along with 683 classmates at Arlington High School, he's been told the world is his for the taking. And that's the little piece of it he wants.

"I'll probably go to college in Texas, but after that I want to live on the beach," said Kevin, who spent his first 13 months of life in Florida and has returned several times. "I want to see the ocean every day."

Kevin's path to his future has taken him through 12 years of public school, all in the Arlington district, and 12 years in the same tidy, 1950s home off Fielder Road, where his family moved just weeks before he started kindergarten at J.L. Hill Elementary School.

A Star-Telegram feature story in August 1998 chronicled his first day in class, his anxious first steps away from home, his tearful mother in tow. Kevin doesn't remember much about that day, other than the reporter and photographer embedded in his kitchen.

"I do remember being nervous that morning, and I do remember having pancakes for breakfast," he said. That was his favorite, a meal equal to the day ahead. "That definitely helped out. Oh, yes. Pancakes are delicious."

For his mom, Lezlie Langford, the memory is sharp and can still cause her to wince.

"We had every day together for five years," she said. "Then he was going away every day, and I wouldn't be able to go with him."

It's OK to cry

A teacher herself at Sherrod Elementary in Arlington, Lezlie remembers fighting back tears that day, anxious for her son to enjoy school and, most important, to make friends. Since she, his father, Chris, and his kid brother Cade moved into their home only a few weeks earlier, Kevin didn't know anyone his own age.

"But it was not a problem," she said. "He still has friends now that he met in kindergarten."

Liz Speer, Kevin's kindergarten teacher, knew right away his mother had nothing to fear. Speer, who had taught for 26 years, remembers Kevin as "very well-behaved, smart and eager to learn."

Now a 38-year veteran, she is still teaching kindergartners -- now at Hale Elementary School -- and still soothing distraught parents on Day One. She tells them it's OK to cry, just like she did when her own children started school.

"But now there's not as much crying," she said. "We have pre-kindergarten, and Mother's Day Out, and of course some children go to day-care centers."

Starting kindergarten is now more like starting second grade.

Speer hasn't seen Kevin since those days, but she keeps up with him the way she does with her other former students -- bumping into their parents at the grocery store.

Growing up, and away

In Kevin's case, there's been a lot to track.

He has become an accomplished athlete, makes good grades and is active in the National Honor Society, Key Club and other endeavors. He has a girlfriend and is making plans for college.

His outlook on school has grown up.

"You really don't understand what you're doing then. You're just going because you have to," he said. "Now that I'm older I have goals, and I go to school to help me accomplish those goals."

Kevin plans to study business in college. His parents describe him as a good student, earning mostly A's and B's.

On this, the first day of school for most districts in the area, Kevin is pleased with his public school career so far.

"I think I had fun and also worked hard," he said. "So I'm pretty proud of myself."

He looks forward to graduation. So do his parents, who know Cade is not far behind. He is starting his freshman year at Arlington High and is in the drum line.

"I already think about that a lot," their mother said. "I've always told my boys I'd be very, very happy if they grow up and come live next door to me. And they've always kind of looked at me like, 'That's probably not going to happen, Mom' -- because Cade would like to go live in Montana, and Kevin would love to go back to Florida."

And while she fully supports Kevin's post-college plans for that beach store a half a country away, she thinks he could make that business model work just as well on a Texas beach.

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