Kristy Grimes didn't have to wait long to find a role model to emulate. She discovered hers before entering first grade.
"My kindergarten teacher, Calissa Hunter, is African-American," she said. "She was an inspiration and made a big impact on me. I always liked her and played school when I was young."
Grimes, a fourth-grade language arts teacher at Frank Moates Elementary in DeSoto, Texas, and single mother, graduated from the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2017. She also earned Reading Specialist, English as a Second Language, and Master Reading Teacher certifications.
"I went back to school to gather more knowledge," Grimes said. "When I began teaching, I was self-contained, so I taught all subjects. I wanted to focus more on literacy."
Another reason that Grimes returned to higher education was to show her children, Kenya (23) and Landon (16), the importance of never giving up on their goals. Grimes is the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree.
"Mainly, I wanted to be a good role model," she said. "I had my daughter when I was 16 years old. I wanted to put that foundation there for them that just because you have these obstacles doesn't mean you should stop. I wanted to show them you can do it, regardless of what you have going on in your life."
So far, so good. Her daughter, Kenya, transferred to an online nursing program at UTA after starting school at Texas Woman's University.
"She works part time, so she also has to have a set routine," Grimes said. "I am able to give her more information about the online program since I already went through one. I told her what to expect and how to do things."
Back on Track
Grimes grew up in Ennis, Texas, and worked as a technical consultant before going to college to become an educator. She graduated with an associate degree in elementary education and teaching from Navarro College in 2005.
After completing a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from Texas A&M University-Commerce two years later, Grimes began her teaching career at her current school. She had plenty going on in her life, but earning a master's degree online was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"Our school district had a college night where they invited teachers, staff and students," she said. "I stopped at one of the tables for UTA. They had more information and the program seemed like it was a good program — and it was."
The flexibility of the online format allowed Grimes to fit school in while working full time and taking care of her children. She is also the fourth-grade team lead at Moates Elementary.
"It was pretty manageable," she said. "I did homework on Wednesdays. Then, there was the discussion board and a major project due on Saturdays. I worked on school for 6-7 hours a week. I had a routine. I had my kids help me remember what project was due which day. We did homework together."
LIST 5354: Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults was the course in the online literacy studies curriculum that hit closest to home with Grimes.
"When I was growing up in Ennis, the town wasn't as diverse as other places," she said. "I went there throughout school. It was good to find out there are books for minority kids — African-American and Hispanic — in that course. It broadened my perspective and introduced me to more authors."
Grimes was especially impressed with the UTA faculty and the course design during her time in the master's degree program.
"The professors were awesome," she said. "Whenever I had a question, they responded really quickly
Grimes capped by making the short drive from DeSoto to Arlington to walk the graduation stage.
"My friends and family were excited and surprised I went back to school," she said. "There was a seven-year gap between the master's degree and my undergraduate degree. I used all of my graduation tickets. My family was at graduation shouting for me. It was fun."
In addition, Grimes enjoyed meeting some of her professors and classmates in person and putting faces to names.
"I was surprised there were people from Las Vegas who came to graduation," she said. "I thought most people probably just got the degree mailed to them. It was eye-opening they flew all the way there to go to graduation."
The M.Ed. in C&I – Literacy Studies degree has already opened several doors for Grimes in the 14 months since she completed the program.
"I was thinking about venturing outside of the classroom, but I'm not sure I want to, because I have made so many connections with students and their parents," she said. "I've taught siblings. With one family, I have taught five kids. I've been offered positions because of the certifications I earned at UTA. I turned them down because I don't want to lose that connection."
Grimes hopes to continue making her role model proud and perhaps inspiring one of her students to pursue a career as an educator, as well. Even though Grimes isn't currently seeking out career change, the master's degree pays dividends every day.
"I already had some information, but gaining more knowledge and being able to tap into something I didn't know was great," she said. "You have to just make sure you have a game plan, a schedule and a routine. A planner would be helpful."
Learn more about the UTA M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program.
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