Julie Konas dropped out of school at age 13, became
a mother at 16 and is now raising four children on her own. But
that didn't keep the strong-willed mom from graduating in December
with a degree emphasis in early childhood education.
Talk about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.
Julie Konas knows all about that move.
Konas never quite fit in with the other kids at
school. Raised in foster homes, she moved around a lot and rarely
had time to form lasting friendships. The frequent shifts also kept
her chronically behind in school. Occasionally, a concerned teacher
tried to help, but it couldn't last, and she was soon on the move
At age 13, Konas left the foster care system,
dropped out of school, lied about her age and started working full
time. She shared an apartment and took on all the responsibilities
of being an adult, including marriage and motherhood by the time
she was 16.
"That's when things kind of changed,"
she said. "I was a parent. I didn't want my kids to have the
same kind of difficulties I had."
She earned her GED and started night school at
Tarrant County College. It took six years to complete her associate's
degree. "Of course, I had to take every remedial course known
to man. I had no high school, no algebra or anything like that."
By the time she graduated, things seemed to be
looking up, but new challenges awaited. After 14 years, her husband
came home one day and said he didn't want to be married anymore.
With five children to raise, Konas knew that she had to find a better
job to support the family.
"I had an associate's degree, but I really
had no marketable skills. I had to fight tooth and nail, but I knew
I had to do it for my kids," she said of her decision to pursue
a bachelor's degree. "I got some grants and some scholarships
and enrolled at UTA."
With her background, Konas originally considered
studying law and becoming an advocate for women and children. Then
she asked herself what else she could do to work for children. The
"I know children," she said. "And
I'd like to be the kind of teacher I wish I'd had while growing
Education Associate Professor Carol Marshall says
Konas is already that kind of teacher.
"Julie has been offered jobs in the most
sought-after schools," Dr. Marshall said. "But one of
the exciting things about her is that she wants to teach in schools
where children are not privileged and where most new teachers prefer
not to teach. Julie knows from firsthand experience what a difficult
childhood is like, and she wants to make a difference in the lives
Konas could have graduated in August 2001, but
the most important children in her lifeher three daughters
and two sonsneeded their mom during the summer. So she played
with them during the school break and crammed 18 credit hours into
the fall semester to graduate in December.
"I've raised these five children pretty much
on my own," she said. "And life is stressful, but my kids
are supportive and independent. We all love dinner time. It's the
one time of the day we're all together."
They were certainly all together at graduation
in December, and at the celebration dinner that followed.