Super Mom

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.

Julie Konas and family

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 again.

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 answer? Teaching.

"I know children," she said. "And I'd like to be the kind of teacher I wish I'd had while growing up."

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 of children."

Konas could have graduated in August 2001, but the most important children in her life—her three daughters and two sons—needed 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.


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