Making the jump from middle to high school is one of those big moments in a kid’s life. In the latest installment of KERA’s education series Class of ’17, we meet Kelli Bowdy and her strongest educational influence, her grandmother, at the 8th grade graduation ceremony at Morningside Middle School in Fort Worth.
It’s a big day for the 204 Morningside 8th graders filling the auditorium’s first six rows. Parents and relatives pack the place to standing room only. They’re a happy, noisy crowd, cheering as their kids’ names are read.
One of those names belongs to Kelli Bowdy. The 14-year-old liked Morningside. She played basketball here and has close friends, but she can’t wait for next year at O.D. Wyatt High -- "because I’m finally going to high school so I know that I can be something.”
The “something” Kelli wants to be is a math or science teacher. Her parents are divorced, and she still sees her dad, but lives at home with her mom, Gloria Mason.
The real force here, though, is Granny.
“She pushes me harder than both, because she wants me to be successful and go to college and graduate,” Kelli says.
Louise Nealy Hodges – she says call her Minnie - is a retired, 74-year-old Fort Worth city employee and a powerful family influence. She attended college, unlike Kelli’s mom, dad and siblings.
When Kelli was younger, Hodges would take her along when she taught adult literacy. She remembers a man from Haiti who struggled to pass his citizenship test until he encountered Kelli.
“She worked with him - I’d go on Tuesday and Thursday - and if she wasn’t there he would ask ‘Where’s my teacher, where’s my teacher?” Hodges says.
That's right, 6-year-old Kelli helped him this man get certified, because she would teach him vowels and consonants that had given him trouble.
“And so she’s always been trying to teach," Hodges says. "Wherever she was, she’s teaching. She would help her dolls, she’s teaching.”
Hodges loves her sweet, inquisitive granddaughter, but worries that Kelli is too much of a “follower.”
“We know what you’re going to do around me," she says, "but when you get in school, and you hear these ‘things,’ and if you don’t have really strong support, then it’s easy for you to walk off.... All you can do is hope and pray and keep praying for them that they listen and they understand.”
Kelli's mom, Gloria Mason, jumps in.
“You know granny has the – she’s a granny," mom says. "That’s what granny does. They worry. Me as a mother, I have two older ones. So no, I’m not worried about high school."
Daughter Kelli still has the summer to get ready. She’ll attend basketball camp soon, but hasn’t picked one out yet. And although it’s four years away, she’s already looking at colleges -- hopefully Baylor or Texas A&M -- "because I was looking online and I saw that they had nursing programs and teaching programs,” she says.
Nursing is a new thought for Kelli, prompted by her nephew Kaiden, born prematurely and cared for in the neonatal ICU.
“Because I just like to take care of people and seeing my nephew inside the NICU, I wanted to do stuff with babies.”
Nephew Kaiden is now 4 months old and doing well. Kelli also as a summer job - babysitting another relative, her little cousin.